CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CLASSIC FASHION BRANDS - Fashion's old guard aim to generate youth appeal. Edgy ad campaigns could make classic brands less desirable, Emma Hall says

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

34-year-old.



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

centuries-old heritage.



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

younger audience.



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

yesterday's news.



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

Elisabeth Jagger.



But swapping Aga appeal for street savvy is not as simple as it

sounds.



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

seasons ago.



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."



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