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Well before Carrie Bradshaw took Manhattan in her Jimmy Choos, accessories were seen on the most stylish women in television and movies, and the brands and looks were sought out by consumers. But today, as advertising and public relations dollars have dried up, brands are making it a priority to get their merch into the hands of stylists outfitting shows such as “Gossip Girl,” “The Hills” and the second “Sex and the City” feature film.
This story first appeared in the October 19, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It can be tricky to quantify the direct sales impact of such placement, but anecdotally, designers say, it can mean an increase in brand awareness and conversation in social media.
Some, however, can point to the placement paying off in hard numbers. In May, “The Hills” star Lauren Conrad wore Rebecca Minkoff’s Studded Rocker bag. The next day, Minkoff sold 300 bags to her top accounts.
“It’s weird how much consumers are tied to that show,” says Minkoff. “Lauren wearing anything means huge sales. Stephanie Pratt now wears the bags and so does her sister. It really has an impact.”
Minkoff also noticed an immediate sales spike from her Morning After clutch directly following a “Gossip Girl” episode in which it was featured. And Minkoff decided not to kill her market bag style after Kim Cattrall’s character, Samantha Jones, wore it in the “Sex and the City” film and her accounts called following the premiere to place orders.
Michael Smith, chief executive officer at Avelle, formerly known as Bagborroworsteal.com, says new membership tripled within the year following the release of the “Sex and the City” movie, in which Jennifer Hudson’s character, Louise, borrows a Louis Vuitton bag from the site. Membership zoomed from 250,000 to more than a million.
“We benefitted on multiple levels,” says Smith. “Clearly our traffic, business and awareness shot up very quickly. But the other area where we benefitted significantly was a validation of the concept. We launched a new idea of luxury accessory rentals online. So this not only increased awareness of the [site], but also the idea that this is a great thing to do. For Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie to say, ‘How did I not know about this?’ — it was priceless.”
Some say the exposure has less of an immediate impact, but results in broader consumer familiarity with the brand.
“It’s definitely been beneficial for us,” jewelry designer Alexis Bittar says of having his pieces appear on TV and in movies. “It’s elusive though. There’s very rarely an immediate impact in terms of sales. But what will happen is that people recognize [the brand] and, on a residual level, as with advertising, it has an impact.”
Bittar says his biggest televised coup came when Samantha wore his hoop earrings throughout the second season of “Sex and the City.” Stylist Patricia Field also used many of Bittar’s pieces in the film, which grossed more than $400 million internationally, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks movie ticket sales. That’s a lot of exposure.
Accessories designer Kara Ross’ handbags were featured on “Gossip Girl” and the nowdefunct TV series “Lipstick Jungle.” She concurs that, while subsequent sales are sometimes hard to track, the visibility is worth the effort. Thanks also to fashion blogs and Twitter pages, one appearance on a TV show can circulate for weeks or even months online.
“The exposure is amazing,” says Ross. “These shows are vehicles for us…and they’re very effective. The viewership of all of them — even those that got canceled — is huge.”
Jennifer Talbott, p.r. director at Intermix, adds it is vital for a brand to tweet or post its latest on-screen placement on Facebook and other social media sites.
“You have to make sure you get it to bloggers to help get press surrounding it,” says Talbott. “On the show, accessories can be hard to look at in a stand-alone context.”
At Henri Bendel, ceo Ed Bucciarelli says consumer interest is piqued often as soon as the day after a product airs on TV.
“We definitely see a spike when a product is shown on TV and we hear people talking about it in the store immediately,” he says. “They come in and say, ‘We saw this bracelet on this show, do you carry it?’ They inquire, so there’s great evidence that points to product placement working.”
Bucciarelli cites two specific instances of heightened consumer interest. Bendel’s Centennial Stripe tote sold out right away after being featured on “Gossip Girl.” The store also had to continuously reorder and wait-list a style by belt line Streets Ahead after Carrie wore a similar look in the “Sex and the City” film.
But potential downsides to such exposure remain. At the end of the day, designers have no way of knowing where their pieces will end up. For example, if a style appears in a show or movie that lacks a certain fashion cachet, some brands fear it can do more harm than good. Bittar recalls watching the wacky comedy “White Chicks,” when he noticed one of the stars wearing a piece of his jewelry.
“I was laughing but I remember thinking, ‘I hope my buyers aren’t watching this!’” he says.
Nancy Gonzalez president Santiago Gonzalez says when the product appears on a show with a low-brow image, it can potentially sully the aura of a high-end product, like his upscale crocodile bags.
“It’s all about the context in which the bag is shown,” Gonzalez says. “Sometimes I think it can be
detrimental. These shows are not exactly how I want to be remembered. You have absolutely no control.”
Gonzalez says, however, that a mention in a scene from “The Devil Wears Prada,” where Stanley Tucci’s character, Nigel, utters his brand’s name, “helped my international business in a big way. The international customer is still more moved by celebrity. Markets such as Korea, Japan, Russia—that’s where I saw the greatest impact on sales.”
Kenneth Jay Lane recalls a necklace he made for Nancy Reagan 30 years ago at her request. It was a lion’s head pendant that years later he reproduced for QVC, and it was spotted by a stylist for “Sex and the City” and appeared on the show.
“From Nancy Reagan to Samantha Jones. That’s a long stretch,” says Lane.