By  on July 29, 2009

The marketing message is getting personal for fall.

In a harsh mediascape marked by sharp advertising budget cuts and play-it-safe campaigns hawking discounts, change is stirring among fashion marketers. They are making appeals to the individual rather than the masses, reversing the pattern of the past 50 years. They are focusing locally and leveraging lower-cost platforms such as store settings and the Internet to reach their most passionate customers. And they are tapping into the public’s desire to escape day-to-day drudgery in the recession and indulge in fantasies — signaled by the rising popularity of vampires, video gaming and some big-budget movies, among other things.

“The days of big, anthemic, conceptual campaigns are over for now,” said John Gerzema, chief creative officer at Young & Rubicam.

Smaller scale, closer-to-home marketing venues or far-reaching, efficient media like the Internet are being chosen as lower-cost, targeted strategies.

Regularly Tweeting into the wee hours with her 6,300 followers, Lisa Gavales, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Express, has been experiencing unaccustomed demands on her time. Many of her followers, she said, “want a window into who’s wearing our clothes — celebrities, models — who’s shopping our stores, what’s going on behind the scenes at photo shoots.” (Express, which operates more than 550 U.S. stores with annual sales of more than $1.8 billion, also addresses these issues in videos, promotional offers and the like to 48,000 of its “fans” on Facebook.)

The second phase of Express’ fall campaign, starting in September, will spotlight the brand’s young, forward fashions — such as strong-shouldered jackets and military-inspired styles — in print and online, including the word from Gavales to her followers on Twitter, people she sees as Express loyalists.

“I much better understand who my customer is, now,” she said of her fellow Tweeters. “It’s having the conversations with the customers who want to know what’s next.”

Paragon, the century-old sporting gear and apparel institution in Manhattan, is using Twitter’s new media messaging to draw people to real-time events. The sports specialist’s Twitter page recently invited people to join in a Nike training run (“ 6:30! Try the latest and greatest Nike shoes!”); to get discounted tickets to World Team Tennis, and it listed offers of previous days, like that of free 7.11-oz. Slurpees on 7-Eleven’s 82nd birthday, July 11 (...“for everyone! Find a store near you.”)

While enabling companies to take the temperature of “communities talking about [them] in real time,” Twitter’s burst onto the scene, Gerzema said, raises a “big concern” for marketers: “How do you keep Tweets from becoming spam?”

More broadly, he said, businesses are entering a period when their brands “have to connect on a value and values level” — by speaking directly to consumers’ personal values that are consistent with the value of the things brands are offering, such as high-quality craftsmanship, the cachet of a limited edition, or a strong ethical stance.

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