To borrow a turn of phrase from fashion parlance, it seems that
"old" is the new "new".
Burberry, Aquascutum, Pringle, Mulberry, Jaeger, Hackett, Macintosh,
Moss Bros, Alfred Dunhill and now Thomas Pink are all busy shedding
their fuddy-duddy images in an attempt to reinvent themselves as
vibrant, relevant, modern brands.
Media schedules now centre on titles such as Dazed & Confused or FHM,
while the target audience is no longer the middle-class Home Counties
lady or the middle-aged City gent, but the fashion-conscious 25- to
Advertising is the obvious route for communicating this new approach and
each of these traditional British brands has launched cutting-edge
campaigns in an attempt to throw off the baggage of (in many cases) a
The shirt-maker Thomas Pink's advertising is the latest and most extreme
attempt to make a mark, employing the services of two former Kray gang
henchmen in a campaign designed to attract a younger, more streetwise
customer (Campaign, last week).
Thomas Pink's official line is that the hardmen have been chosen because
they provide an effective contrast with the softness of the new 1701
range of shirts. But the campaign, which is described by M&C Saatchi as
"geezer chic", is clearly a blatant attempt to tap into the Lock
Stock-type exaltation of the gangster way of life, and thus appeal to a
Of course, it goes without saying that all brands need to keep moving
forward and attracting new generations of customers, but some of these
"edgier" campaigns risk alienating the traditional fashion houses' core
support. By grabbing a shortlived place in the fashion limelight, brands
are in danger of sacrificing their "classic" status and becoming
Graham Simm, the marketing director of Jaeger, which has just launched a
new campaign featuring the Britpack model Trish Goff, insists: "A lot of
our current consumers want us to move the brand on and we have made a
lot of changes in the past few months."
Mulberry has also had a radical rethink. Hazy, out-of-focus shots of the
UK's most street-cred celebrity thespian couple, Anna Friel and David
Thewliss, have replaced the traditional, reassuring packshots of leather
goods that punters had come to expect of the brand.
However, it is the reinvention of Burberry, steered by the chief
executive, Rose Marie Bravo, over the past three years, that has proved
the most dramatic. The fashion house has created decadence-tinged ad
campaigns featuring wild groups of rock stars, models and party-goers
including Marianne Faithfull, Kate Moss, Chris Eubank, Jerry Hall and
But swapping Aga appeal for street savvy is not as simple as it
Ainsley Mackay, the account director on French Connection at
TBWA/London, says: "Burberry approached the shift in the right way by
being consistent in the advertising, the product and the in-store
environment. The original relaunch ad showing a Burberry bikini says as
much about the changing brand as the use of Kate Moss."
The new advertising has undoubtedly worked, establishing the signature
Burberry check as a globally recognised currency of luxury. Even more
importantly, Burberry's profits before tax for the year ending 31 March
2001 soared to £69.5 million from £21.7 million in 2000.
Sales were up £230 million to £425 million.
But the check's ubiquity involves a sacrifice of exclusivity and,
consequently, desirability. As a result, Burberry could yet find itself
vulnerable to the vagaries of the fashion pack. Bravo, however, is
convinced that the company, established in 1856 and now owned by Great
Universal Stores, can remain one step ahead of the game. "Last season,
we had the biggest outburst of plaid-o-mania," she says. "But now we
believe it's time to be a bit more subtle."
The $35 million autumn/winter campaign still utilises Moss and
other regulars on the London party circuit, but the plaid has been kept
very much in the background. "It's still that British quirkiness," Bravo
says, "but in a more spare, sophisticated manner."
Other luxury brands with a similar heritage seem prepared to risk
anything in the search for street credibility. The thinking is that the
stylish, discerning, older customer will be thrilled that they are
wearing something that is fashionable among younger people, yet still
acceptable within their own circle.
Pringle has perhaps gone furthest of all, with a sportswear campaign
that is featured in the September issues of titles such as The Face, ID
and Dazed & Confused. "The Diffusion collection has a more casual feel
and will establish a new attitude for the brand aimed at the cutting
edge of the youth market," a Pringle spokesman says. That said, ads for
the main Pringle brand have already developed a rough-and-ready appeal
that would have been anathema to the Scottish knitwear house a couple of
Aquascutum has also introduced a lower-priced range aimed at young men
interviewing for their first jobs. However, the label, which celebrates
its 150th anniversary this year, has been more cautious than rivals in
its attempts to appeal to younger consumers.
"We are not doing a Burberry," Aquascutum's marketing manager, Emma
Clarke, says, "but there is a lot of competition in our sector and it is
necessary to move on. Like the dinosaurs, we have to evolve."
Aquascutum's latest campaign was shot amid the opulent surroundings of
an Oxfordshire country house, but the styling and the use of
up-and-coming models subtly suggest that the brand has a subversive
element lurking behind the traditional exterior.
Clarke adds: "Heritage is important to us but it doesn't dictate
everything we do. Models are the key to the reputation of our brand. We
have to be aware of fashion, but we are not dictated to by it."
Asha Buckley, Jaeger's marketing manager, believes the spate of luxury
brand repositioning is a result of a long-term shift in fashion. "There
has been a renaissance of classic brands," she says. "People are
prepared to pay for quality that lasts more than a season."
But if the new strategy is to survive the vagaries of fashion, the
classic brands should heed Mackay, who warns: "It takes more than trendy
advertising to turn a brand around."