ADVERTISER OF THE YEAR: FRENCH CONNECTION UK - French Connection’s decision to orient its entire marketing activity behind its advertising has paid off, with a near-doubling of profits for the first half of 1999

Why should French Connection be advertiser of the year? Because its profits nearly doubled in the first half of 1999? Because it stands out as an innovator in a category dominated by me-too advertising? Or because, after more than two years, fcuk continues to be one of the most talked-about campaigns in the UK?

Why should French Connection be advertiser of the year? Because its

profits nearly doubled in the first half of 1999? Because it stands out

as an innovator in a category dominated by me-too advertising? Or

because, after more than two years, fcuk continues to be one of the most

talked-about campaigns in the UK?

Or perhaps it is because it has done all this with a media spend of less

than pounds 2 million for the past 12 months, according to MMS figures,

achieving greater brand awareness than some companies spending ten times

that amount.

More than anything, French Connection has oriented its entire marketing

activity behind its advertising.

Cast your mind back to Stephen Marks, chairman and chief executive of

French Connection, unveiling an 84 per cent rise in pre-tax profits for

the first half of this year and attributing his success almost

exclusively to advertising.

French Connection has had an outstanding year. The figures say it all -

while other clothing retailers have blamed everything from market

conditions and cut-price rivals to the weather for their poor sales,

French Connection has gone from strength to strength. Pre-tax profits

rose 27 per cent to pounds 10.4 million in 1998 and are expected to be

nearly double that for 1999.

Whether you attribute it to Marks, to TBWA GGT Simons Palmer, or to

Trevor Beattie, who came up with the idea, there is a sense of genius

about fcuk.

Research carried out by the UK youth market research group, Roar,

indicates that French Connection is now one of the most coveted brands

for 15- to 24-year-olds, up there with the major players such as Nike

and Sony. But it wasn’t always like that. Those four little letters - f,

c, u and k - have literally transformed the company’s fortunes.

Fcuk has been going since 1997 and the danger for 1999 was that the idea

would run out of steam. But TBWA’s ads continue to surprise, and last

year the ’subliminal advertising’ idea was introduced. Posters featured

the three words, ’subliminal advertising experiment’ which, read

vertically, spelled out the word ’sex’. French Connection made its TV

debut with the campaign, with a series of five-second ads that featured

the three words to a background of ’white noise’.

The campaign was backed by advertising on the back of 17 million London

bus tickets - the first time a fashion brand had used the medium. French

Connection’s media agency, Manning Gottlieb Media, analysed bus routes

that pass French Connection stores and supplied the relevant depots with

the branded bus tickets.

The campaign to launch French Connection’s new range of glasses, fcuk

vision, used the same trademark white space and word-play. The ads

featured photographs of people wearing the glasses alongside the words,

’specsuality’, ’heterospecsuality’ and ’homospecsuality’. Later work

focused on the mind and the trademark colour was switched from white to


TBWA produced a series of posters and press ads featuring models wearing

French Connection clothes alongside slogans such as ’think my clothes


The campaign continued to perform at awards ceremonies, scooping the

awards for best 96-sheet poster, best use of typography and best

fashion, beauty, healthcare or toiletries poster at the Campaign Poster

Awards, and making it into the fashion industry magazine, Draper’s

Record’s top three retailers for 1999.

But perhaps French Connection’s biggest coup of 1999 was the victorious

Lennox Lewis pictured on the front page of every newspaper in Britain -

and probably the US - wearing a beanie hat emblazoned with the fcuk

slogan and shorts bearing the words, ’fcuk fear’.

French Connection is estimated to have paid around pounds 1.5 million to

sponsor Lewis for his Madison Square Garden World Championship fight

against Evander Holyfield. It got the kind of publicity most marketing

men can only dream of. The deal was conceived and organised by Beattie,

a boxing fanatic, and Lewis wore the fcuk brand in training as well as

during the fight.

French Connection’s advertising continued to grab headlines and court

controversy throughout 1999, most notably when a High Court judge ruling

on a copyright infringement case brought by the retailer described fcuk

as ’obscene’ and called for it to be banned. Even the Conservative

Party’s youth arm, Conservative Future, tried to grab a bit of the fcuk

magic by renaming itself CFUK - a move that French Connection’s lawyers

quickly saw off.

One other advertiser, Tesco, was singled out for commendation. This was

the year in which the company’s consistently good advertising came into

its own. Tesco’s ’Dotty’ campaign, created by Lowe Howard-Spink, has

entered the national consciousness in a way no other supermarket has

come close to. Last year Terry Leahy, the Tesco chief executive, alluded

to the advertising as he unveiled yet another sparkling set of trading

figures. Tesco continues to increase its share of the UK grocery market

with an adspend of pounds 31 million - pounds 20 million less than that

of its rival, Sainsbury’s.

The campaign may not win many awards, but it has proved to be the

people’s favourite. Last year it won the award for the most popular TV

advertising at the National Television Awards - the only award to be

determined by votes from consumers.

Recent winners: McDonald’s (1998); Volkswagen (1997); Orange (1996);

Daewoo (1995); Tesco (1994).

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).