NEW YORK — A family hike through the Northwest wilderness, a European woman strolling the streets of Milan with a dalmation and a network weatherman are among the diverse images outerwear companies are using to update their brands.

Generally, advertising and marketing have not been the top tools coat companies use to reach customers and build sales. Those who invest in the strategy tended to go with tried-and-true photos like full-length shots of an average woman in a classic coat.

Now, these brands are trying to make their product more alluring by presenting their labels with more of an attitude — ranging from aspirational to offbeat. In this trying retail market, where many brands have sliced their advertising budgets to cut costs, there are deals to be made, said Fredric Stollmack, president of the Weatherproof Garment Co.

"Now, more than ever — in terms of the economy and deep discounting going on at retail — if you can afford to take an aggressive marketing stand, it will separate you from the pack," Stollmack said.

Weatherproof doubled its advertising budget to $4 million this year, using a variety of people as models. The brand’s key spokesman, however, is the "Today" show’s Al Roker — not the typical choice for a fashion brand.

"Just as a spoof, we like to do the unexpected," Stollmack said. "You’re thumbing through these pages with all these beautiful models and then you see big Al Roker." (Although Roker’s recent much-publicized weight loss might change the description of his girth.)

In an even more unusual move, Bogner ran a 32-page ad insert in the October issue of German Vogue, comprised of hundreds of photos of retailers, consumers and friends of the company. Earlier this year, chief executive officer Willy Bogner sent out letters asking them to send in snapshots for the project without specifying what it would entail.

Bogner celebrated its 70th anniversary last month with a bash in Germany and video footage of that event will be given to retailers for the holidays. The outdoor brand has completed a 250-page book documenting its history. The $392 book will be offered with 300 different fabric covers. It will be published by Te Neues and sold in bookstores and at Bogner stores for the holidays. There will also be a DVD telling the Bogner story.The company also generated some serious buzz overseas, after its ceo unveiled Berlin’s refurbished Brandenburg Gate last month. Known for his action sports films, Bogner dreamed up the idea of ascending to the top of the gate in a hot-air balloon and then rappelled the monument, unzipping the shielding tarpaulins on the way down and filming the endeavor.

Cole-Haan is pitching more relaxed get-togethers with black-and-white ads of a party, an airport and a newsstand. Bill Zeitz, vice president of brand marketing, said: "There’s a diverse group of people and the ads have a narrative feel, with quite a bit left open to the imagination. That way, each person can fill in the missing blanks. It works on a more emotional level."

The ads have more of a head-to-toe look to demonstrate the various products the brand makes.

"The biggest thing we’re doing is we’re changing people’s perception of the brand," Zeitz said. "We’re known as a footwear company and we want to be known more as a lifestyle brand."

Given the push by big brands for lifestyle-oriented campaigns, licensees have their work cut out for them in trying to ensure their respective products are represented in ads, said Donald Levy, president of The Levy Group.

"Brands always like to go their own ways regardless of whatever money you contributed," he said. "They want to advertise their lifestyle. But as a licensee, I know I will sell more coats if one appears in a national ad."

The firm produces the licensed Liz Claiborne Coats, Dana Buchman and Esprit outerwear lines, as well as its own Donnybrook and Braetan coat collections. Levy said he negotiates aggressively to ensure coats make the cut and praised Liz Claiborne executives for being "very receptive." The black wool coat that is featured in the current campaign is one of the company’s best-selling items, he said.

The prevalence of outerwear in fall campaigns, in general, is more indicative of lifestyle marketing than last year’s rocky season for outerwear sales, he said. Levy said: "People advertise national brands and they think the best way to present their brands are through lifestyle images."Other coat makers are taking a more literal approach to marketing, focusing on product-oriented advertising. Herman Kay-Bromley has sold 11,000 units of a single-breasted, walking coat with paisley lining that appears in London Fog’s fall corporate campaign, said Barry Kay, co-president. Herman Kay-Bromley has the license for London Fog wool coats.

The company also produces Anne Klein AK coats. The camel-hair coat that appeared in an Anne Klein ad this fall has been another best-seller for the company.

Last month’s sales were the strongest for October in 10 years, and fall ads helped, Kay said.

"Product is so important. If it’s the wrong item in an ad, they don’t sell the product," he said.

Cinzia Rocca decided to go forward with a fall campaign in the U.S. for the second consecutive year due to the success of last year’s ads, said Denise Bongiorno, managing director. Shot on the streets of Milan, the ads feature four different coats, including three fur-trimmed styles. Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s sold out of one of them, a chinchilla-trimmed coat, and has since reordered, she said.

After the ads ran this fall in magazines, and on buses and phone kiosks, the company received calls from retailers and opened a few new accounts in the U.S.

"We heard from stores that might not know of us otherwise," Bongiorno said. "The ads make our name more well-known and help people to understand what we do."

The brand’s images are also on display in the new Cinzia Rocca 600-square-foot concept shop at Bloomingdale’s flagship. The plan is to open more with other major retailers.

This fall, Pacific Trail, a division of London Fog Industries, put a greater emphasis on families enjoying the great outdoors in its print ads. Sasquatch advertising, a Portland, Ore.-based firm, shot the campaign in Oregon and Washington.

Todd Gilmer, marketing and communications director for Pacific Trail, summed up the relaxed scenes this way: "We’ve taken a different approach in the outdoor market. We’re not jumping out of helicopters or hanging off cliffs, but we’re certainly not depicting a trendy outdoor fashion company either."The company has also made a point of advertising in places consumers might not expect to see an outdoor brand, such as Martha Stewart Living, Country Living and O, the Oprah magazine, he added. The brand also places ads in traditional outdoor publications. The surest sign of advertising is the upswing in Web site hits and phone calls to the company’s headquarters that are received once the ads run, Gilmer said.

"The one thing ads can do beyond increasing brand awareness and product [sales] is to promote outdoor fun and recreation," he said. "That certainly helps have some effect on our business."

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