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
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
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).