When Alasdhair Willis, creative director of Hunter, joined in 2013, he announced that the brand renowned for its wellies would start doing fashion shows.
According to the former branding consultant and ex-publishing director of Wallpaper* magazine, it was a way to "instantly change the perception of the business" and to "play with the personality of the brand".
The shows were never classic "catwalks", but experiences that focused on moments, from recreating a festival vibe with a muddy catwalk in a massive tent, through to surrounding the audience with flowing water to represent the Scottish Highlands.
Four seasons on and the brand has turned its focus to creating longer-term experiences to engage its target consumer base, which represents everything from the fashion-conscious festival lover who buys in to the Hunter Original range, through to the "urban to rural" market more accustomed to the classic Hunter Field collection.
"Hunter is fundamentally about experiences – when we ask people to talk about the brand, they don’t talk about the functionality of waterproof footwear, they talk about a moment in their lives where Hunter played a part – a romance, a first date, a first festival, their children playing, an entire experience. We are locked into their memory banks," Willis (pictured below) says.
"So experiential moments are very important to us as a brand. Hunter is already synonymous with festivals – a certain supermodel made it a brand everyone wants to be part of during festival season – and our job is to retain that."
The ambitious 2018 campaign enables the brand to create an experience that travels – and it will, across Europe and then to America. "It’s a simple concept that can resonate across all markets, and not just for this season. If proven successful, it can evolve… It’s a simple concept to repeat," Willis says.
The activity is set to kick off in style this summer. A 120-foot-tall wellington-boot-shaped hot-air balloon, based on the design of its famous Original boot to celebrate the brand’s connection with the outdoors, will make its debut in the sky above festivals across the summer, in the UK and Europe, before crossing the Atlantic for a series of American appearances in September.
The hashtag #HunterOriginal will be used as a tool for the brand’s "Spot the welly" campaign as it pops up at outdoor events across the year, which will in turn fuel user-generated content as consumers engage to win a trip in the balloon.
The idea was long in the making, dating back to Hunter’s first Glastonbury activations in 2014, where the #Beaheadliner boot armistice encouraged festival-goers to trade in their old boots for a pair of Hunters. Willis had toyed with the idea of an aerial boot drop, but airspace restrictions led to the alternative strategy.
This has been a strong 12 months for Hunter, which took to New York to bring the mist of the Highlands to Grand Central Station in an immersive activation that captured the imagination of New Yorkers – yet Willis admits that the cost of creating the three-day stunt was "quite punchy". "It delivered against every aspect, but we are certainly looking towards how to create experiences that we can repeat – and ones that have a long lifeline," he adds.
Could that lifeline be achieved with a longer residency – a "House of Hunter" charting the brand’s evolution from purveyor of waterproof footwear since 1856 through to a British brand that has significantly diversified, introducing non-footwear ranges that now account for 50% of sales in its flagship stores?
The brand already has a spot at the Design Museum, but if a more bespoke experience meets Willis’ aim to see this historic brand through the next 160 years, then the opportunity certainly won’t be overlooked.
• Taken from Campaign’s annual "Brand Experience Report", which delves into the key shifts in the field of experiential and ranks the top 50 agencies by experiential turnover. This report will be online at campaignlive.co.uk/experiences in July.