“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century” - Marchall Mcluhan, one of the greatest communications philosophers from 1900, used to say. Nowadays, a question often comes along while reading it: is this still applicable in the 21st century? Many successful brands can now prove that traditional advertising is not an essential strategy anymore. But, a zero-advertising policy is not yet accepted by lot of companies, especially, when it comes to fashion. In fact, where in some other fields, finding popular brands that don’t advertise is quite easy, in the luxury and fashion system, it is not so common. Even though the traditional way to advertise is still so popular, as the years go on, many new companies have decided to start their businesses without using advertising. Hence, we can say that in fashion and luxury system, more than in any other industry, some “iconic” companies were born with the philosophy of not-to-communicate their work out loud!
Going forward, a case-study on ten such fashion & luxury players can be seen, who took to this non-traditional, non-communicative method of promotion and achieved a lot of accolades by the audiences.
Firstly, let's have a look at four Fashion Brands that share the same idea of doing business, even if with diverse business models. Those are - Zara, Asos, Uniqlo and Abercrombie & Fitch: - all belonging to the mass-market segment of retailing. At the start of each of their's successful journeys, they were completely unknown by most of the consumers around the world, and, taking in consideration the minimum amount left to the communication area, within just a few short years, they managed to grow to such an extent as to become global leaders in fast-fashion retailing, today. The secret to their success was to count everything on the customer’s positive feedback, such as the innovative shopping experience that they were having, day-by-day. It proves without a doubt that the word-of-mouth is sometimes more powerful than many of the other forms of publicity, such as slogans or photos. On the other side, their strategy was based on some other marketing levels, such as the product innovation, the super efficient distribution and the extremely affordable prices.
So, what did each of these mass-market brands did right?
Zara - The Spanish Brand (a part of the gigantic Inditex SA group), has always had a policy of being focused on dedicating much of their marketing budget on investments to the retail shops themselves, and nothing towards advertising. As everyone can easily see, most of the Zara stores are located in the best areas of the cities and they are all really big in terms of square metres. This is their most important source of advertising, as the shops can always attract many new, curious people.
Asos - The online English retailer’s most important strength is the combination between young and cool designs with low prices. With something like that, especially among the younger target audience, the success becomes something you can count on.
Uniqlo - The Japan-born company has always applied a particular promotional approach strictly based on a non-traditional advertising strategy.
For example, as the Brand landed for the first time outside its country of origin, in New York, the communication was focused on letting people know Uniqlo by leaving many shipping caravans (same concept as that of a pop-up store) around the city, transformed into 'temporary stores'.
Abercrombie & Fitch - The principal marketing strategy adopted by Abercrombie and Fitch is the shopping experience. Every store seems exactly the same as the next: inside they are quite dark in terms of lighting, all the sales associates are professional models, and last but not least, all around the shops, you can smell their unmistakable perfume. This successful mix, along with the American Brand's appeal, attracts many people, especially teenagers; so, as long as it continues to work well, the brand will not need any kind of traditional advertising.
The second group of brands that are taken into consideration consist of the ones more at the premium-luxury level - Goyard, Manolo Blahnik, Marni and Maison Martin Margiela. It can appear strange that so many different companies choose to share the communication strategy of 'not advertising', but thanks to a deeper analysis, the reason why, seems much clearer. Some luxury brands decide to opt for an unconventional kind of promotion, as they prefer not to promote their products “out loud” to the world. The philosophy beneath this strategy is to keep the luxury just for a few connoisseurs.
Let's study these luxury names deeply in regards to the 'reason why' behind their success:
Goyard - "Increases the allure of the product among the most sophisticated customers because it maintains its insider status" - as said the marketing manager from Goyard, this is the Brand’s aim in terms of communication. They refuse advertising in the way that their principal “advertising” tool is the product itself with the iconic texture printed all-over each piece. Goyard today is a symbol of how little-by-little, the word of mouth can be really powerful.
Manolo Blahnik - The Spanish shoemaker’s business case is one of the most interesting ones. The Brand was born and started to grow up with the same strategy as Goyard, if it was not “Sex and the City” that completely changed the rules.
Manolo’s product placement on the HBO production has been one of the most successful ones in the fashion system. After Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with those shoes, more and more people started to get to know Manolo Blahnik. Today, it still doesn’t want nor has any need to start with traditional advertising.
Marni - The Italian fashion Brand is well known in the business for its policy against advertising. They prefer to use PR or other kind of events as promotional tools. An interesting point about the brand was the collaboration they did with the mass-market brand H&M; however in this situation, Marni accepted to promote the capsule with traditional advertising too. “Marni for H&M” worked as a huge success and helped to promote the brand for a significant period.
Maison Martin Margiela - The brand is really clear with the customer about this theme as it is marked even on their Facebook official page. “Opposed to fashion standards, the Maison goes against the commercial flow: no branding, no advertising, no marketing product, only a numerical system for its collections which are composed of several product lines”. As Marni did, the brand advertised only in occasion of the collaboration with H&M using it as an advertising strategy.
Maison Martin Margiela is more inclined towards opening pop-up stores around the world, instead of starting with big investments on traditional advertising.
The last two brands selected in the cluster, belong to a different bunch (bridge and value-for-money): they direct their offers to a specific target already selected, a niche one - Kiehl's and COS. In this case, brands don’t need to let people know who they are because interested people will look for them, regardless. It could be because of their products/services or original format.
Kiehl's - A pharmacy-like store: this is the brand’s key to success. Shop associates wear white medical coats and are prepared to take care of your requests.
Even the products are very successful too: everything “talks” for itself and all you need to know about them is written on the box, giving the customer the feeling of buying a 'secure' product.
COS - Even if the retailing chain is part of the H&M Group, it works completely different from the other brand. Here the product is the centre of their growing success. COS offers new products instead of all the usual ones in all the mass-market chains, both in terms of design and materials used. Any other brand, before this brand’s breakout in the business, was working on minimalistic models and simple lines; moreover, their prices justify the worth of the products, as they are more expensive than Zara or H&M, but the materials used are better. The worth-of-mouth for COS is essential, because they are still growing a lot without any kind of traditional advertising.
Looking at the above analysis, a question arises: could a “Non Traditional Advertising Strategy” be the new greatest art of the future? We believe it is still too early to tell with inevitability, however, something is for certain: going out-of-the-scheme helps companies find new ways of promoting, stimulating both the imagination and the customer's curiosity.
Take the risk: don’t use traditional advertising; it could end up working great for you!
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