By  on June 10, 2008

With its first advertising and marketing campaign as an independent, privately held company, Express hopes to establish a new creative direction and identity for a brand whose personality hasn't always been distinct.

The concept of the campaign — models cavorting on the beach — is only part of the story. What are those tripods doing on the beach, and that fan? Express wants to give viewers the feeling of being behind the scenes at a photo shoot. The campaign's conceit is to have the gear used to make fashion images, such as backdrops, light stands and cables, intentionally visible in each shot.

Doug Lloyd, chief executive officer and creative director of Lloyd (+ co), which was hired to execute the advertising, believes the campaign will bring a sense of authority to the label.

Veteran fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh shot the images of two up-and-coming models romping on Long Island, N.Y., beaches. "We're looking at upgrading the image of the brand," Lloyd said. "To do that, we brought in Peter Lindbergh and buzz-worthy models. The visuals tell the story of being on a photo shoot so you see elements of the shoot, such as background or equipment. It's involving viewers with an insider's glimpse of that world. The brand's demographic has a thirst for the subjects and glamour attached to fashion image making."

Express has been in need of remaking its image. After years of disappointing performance, Limited Brands Inc. in July 2007 sold a majority stake in Express to Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm, for $548 million, while retaining 33 percent.

For years, the brand had difficulty finding the right fashion formula, shifting between styles that were too old and looks that were too young. In 2005, Paul Raffin, who was then president of Express, said: "We got fashion wrong, we drifted older, we drifted more expensive, and in fact alienated a large percentage of our total customers,"

Golden Gate is trying to reverse Limited Brands' philosophy of advertising. Leslie Wexner, founder and chief executive officer of Limited Brands, consistently said he considered the Limited's mall locations and windows to be the brands' best advertisement, with the exception of Victoria's Secret, which invests heavily in print and television.

"The new campaign looks at the Express product in a different way," Lloyd said. "The bulk of what we do will end up for in-store, direct mail and electronic uses, but there is a media buy for fall. [Advertising] is something they're exploring because they haven't done it in the past. They're not going to be out there the way Louis Vuitton or Target is, but Express has a new backer, which seems to be very well financed."

Asked if consumers are wary of Express since it has gone through so many incarnations, Lloyd said, "It has gone through a few cycles, but the customer comes and goes because at a certain point [he or she] grows out of that brand. There's always a new customer growing into the brand. I don't know how much [customers] are aware of the past."

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