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“If you’re not in fashion, you’re nobody.”

February 27, 2015

No, it isn’t a line from AbFab, but is in fact a quote of Lord Chesterfield, said some 260 years earlier.

Perhaps it was being in Paris over Fashion Week for the World Retail Congress that got me, and my colleague Diana Springer, thinking about the concept of brands needing to be “in fashion”. Chesterfield’s statement so clearly defines the ultimate aim of marketing and advertising: constantly keeping the brands we work on current, in-favour, preferred, and hopefully even loved – essentially, in fashion. I’m not sure that Chesterfield could’ve foreseen just how hard that task would be in today’s world, where just about everything is available everywhere, all the time.

The World Retail Congress is admittedly less stylish than Fashion Week but probably with a lot more substance to be had. After heading from the likes of John Lewis, Tesco, Coke, Printemps & Louis Vuitton, what struck us is that there is something fundamental to brands that have the ability to stay in-fashion.

You may think that it requires being on top of, and adopting, the latest trends (maybe creating a few of your own), or religiously following popular culture. We argue that it’s only a part of it. However, we just need to be reminded that Apple – easily one of the trendiest brands out there – is noticeably absent on two of the most popular platforms of our time: Facebook & Twitter. No, being in fashion is a lot more than just the technology you use (and far harder work).

Brands that stay in fashion have one thing in common. A clear and powerful purpose, which consistently allows them to present themselves in authentic, unique ways that keeps the brand wanted and chosen.

Disney, has the unique ability to ‘suspend reality’ in just about every person on the planet. They’ve taken one of their most compelling propositions, Cinderella, into retail spaces around the world with their Bibidi Bopidi Boutique It’s a space where little girls live out the ultimate fantasy of being transformed into Cinderella, through a range of services where they’re pampered, made-up and dressed into real-life princesses. Clearly this suspension of reality is working – the waiting list for the Harrods boutique is six months, with prices up to R18,000 a go.

Being in fashion also demands delivering value. Discount food retailer Lidl understands that product and price alone don’t equal value (unless of course you are consistently the cheapest in your category – a rare feat). Struggling with their ‘cheap’ image in Sweden, they set out to get back in fashion by convincing people that Lidl isn’t a compromise.

They opened a pop-up gourmet restaurant called Dill (a convenient play on their name). Headed up by leading chefs who secretly used products exclusively from Lidl – it became an instant success. Their little secret wasn’t made public until the popular pop-up shut its doors.

Johnnie Rush, from the Home Shopping Network, talked about the ‘e-factor’ where you create an emotion that leads to a sale. Brands that are in-fashion acknowledge consumer needs and mindset, and are able to offer their consumers social currency – experiences and stories that move beyond the transactional. Ann Cairne, the head of insight for Mastercard, echoed this sentiment – one of the biggest macro worldwide trends that they’re seeing in global spend, is the shift away from commodities to experiences.

A great example of a brand that has acknowledged this shift is Shoes of Prey, an Australian (and soon to be global) retailer. Modern consumers’ desire personalisation and customisation, so Shoes of Prey tapped into this mindset by giving shoppers the ability to design their very own, one-of-a-kind, pair of shoes, both online and at David Jones. De rigueur indeed.

Disney have taken this even further with their D-Tech-Me studios, which print 3D replicas of customers as Star Troopers, Super Heroes or Princesses. Now that’s living the brand. Every week, lululemon stores and showrooms push their products aside, unroll yoga mats and turn their spaces into instant yoga studios. The classes are complimentary and lead by instructors from local studios, building real brand communities and followers.

But perhaps, most importantly, staying in fashion requires you to consistently build social currency. It’s the value associated with your brand that is intangible, yet so desirable, that your audience is continually prepared to spend their hard-earned money on your brand, no matter what anyone thinks.

Enter CROCS. In our opinion, far from the fashion icons seen at Fashion Week, however with 300 million pairs sold globally and revenue of $1bn, we think that neither their customers, nor they, could care less. In fact, a senior executive at the Congress commented, “we like that we have detractors, it brings us to the forefront”.

As much as these are global shifts, they are increasingly relevant locally. As South African consumers become ever more value conscious – seeking out brands and services that deliver meaningful, tangible impact – brand owners need to push beyond the veneer of just advertising or dialing up the decibels of their ad spend to attract and retain consumers. Easier said than done in a world of ubiquity. So, the real challenge is finding a unique, authentic way to present your brand. Great product and price are becoming passport factors. You need a thorough understanding of why your customers should put you at the top of their list. And that’s called purpose.

If you would like to chat more about being ‘in-fashion’ and hear more from the World Retail Congress please get in touch.

  • Robert Grace is Group Partner of Strategy for the M&C Saatchi Abel Group in South Africa.
  • Diana Springer is Managing Partner Strategy for the M&C Saatchi Abel Gauteng.


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