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Men’s Wear CEO Summit: The Brand Builders

Trey Laird of Laird + Partners, Alex Gonzalez of AR New York and James Gardner of Createthe Group talked brand building, both online and in traditional media.

James Gardner, Alex Gonzalez and Trey Laird.
Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 04/07/2011

“It’s been a good year to be a Hilfiger,” said Trey Laird, chief executive and creative officer of Laird + Partners, the New York ad agency.

Laird was referring to “The Hilfigers” ad campaign his agency created for Tommy Hilfiger. Sharing the podium with Alex Gonzalez, co-founder and executive creative director of AR New York, and James Gardner, ceo and co-founder of Createthe Group, the three executives offered insight into brand building, both online and in traditional media.

For Laird, creating an eccentric family of characters enabled the company to re-focus after several twists and turns. When Laird took over the account, he saw that Hilfiger’s image wasn’t as clear as it once was, and there was some confusion with customer perception: “What does Tommy really stand for? Is he no longer about American classics? Is he a rock ’n’ roll designer, or is he hip-hop?” Laird tapped into the company’s roots as classic sportswear with an irreverent twist. “And now that’s the sweet spot,” he said. “What’s happened over the last couple of years is an incredible brand renaissance. The brand has emerged stronger, more focused and more powerful than ever globally,” said Laird.

By using storytelling, Laird brought the Hilfiger characters to life across many consumer touch points, in both traditional and new media. “We gave them all Facebook pages, and fans doubled in the last year. They’ve tweeted from events, large and small, and they’ve been interviewed by bloggers; they’ve made pop-up appearances all over the world, from a box at the U.S. Open, where [John] McEnroe gave them a shout-out, to store openings in Paris and Tokyo, to Jimmy Fallon,” said Laird. With all the buzz about digital initiatives, Laird said it was television, the “tried and true” medium, that put “The Hilfigers” on the map.

In the fourth quarter, Hilfiger made the most aggressive TV buy in its history (spending $7.5 million for TV holiday commercials), and the Hilfigers hit the air in the U.S. and 14 other countries. “Sales have been phenomenal,” he said.

Gonzalez addressed the creative work his ad agency has done for Brioni, the high-end family-owned Italian men’s wear brand. “It’s a jewel of a small brand,” said Gonzalez, whose agency has also done campaigns for Valentino, Banana Republic, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Jimmy Choo. He explained that Umberto Angeloni, former ceo of Brioni, asked them to come up with a platform that did not speak about fashion at all. “We had to enter the brand’s DNA and its reason for being,” said Gonzalez. After conducting a case study, they found the brand was built around 1 percent of the world’s movers and shakers. “These are men who like one-of-a-kind pieces, and they can appreciate the unique nature of this brand,” said Gonzalez. For one long-running print campaign, they photographed a Learjet. For its new campaign, Brioni wanted to see more products in the ads.

Gardner’s firm helps companies develop a strong online presence by creating communications platforms and campaigns in digital, mobile, social media and emerging technologies. His clients, such as Burberry, Marc Jacobs, La Perla, Tom Ford and David Yurman, use digital platforms to tell stories. “Digital has changed the way we shop for luxury,” he said. He described the “Digital Gentleman” as the luxury consumer “who’s always connected at work and at play. He’s on his laptop, he’s on his smartphone, he’s increasingly on his tablet device. How the brand engages this digital gentleman is the key question,” said Gardner.

“Digital has radically changed media,” he said. Previously, brands engaged in a one-way monologue with a captive and passive audience. While that still exists, “Digital is multidimensional. Consumers are having a conversation. It’s now an active audience that is voluntary. Success is based on not just buying his presence, but earning his presence,” said Gardner.

He explained that now it’s imperative to deliver “unique and engaging content, whether it’s created, commissioned or curated, to tell the brand’s story.” For example, he cited Burberry’s “Art of the Trench,” which featured user-generated photographs. Another client, Nowness, uses storytelling from the art, travel and music worlds, and for Dunhill, they developed a platform called Day 8, which has an iPad app with rich content that engages with the consumer.