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The Barney’s Bunch Turns to TV

NEW YORK -- Carrie, Philip, Bunnie, Harold and Ambrose are stepping out. The quirky, cheeky illustrated characters are stepping off the printed page and into a TV campaign for Barneys New York.<BR><BR>The characters, who pose ironic questions or make...

NEW YORK — Carrie, Philip, Bunnie, Harold and Ambrose are stepping out. The quirky, cheeky illustrated characters are stepping off the printed page and into a TV campaign for Barneys New York.

The characters, who pose ironic questions or make oddly humorous statements in the print ads, translate well to TV. In one spot, called “Fish Tank,” a woman in eccentric dress can be seen trying on hats in front of a fish tank. “Carrie was always looking for a second opinion,” says the voiceover, as fish swim by.

Another spot shows Philip laboring over men’s furnishings. “Philip didn’t let color blindness stop him,” the voiceover says.

There’s also Bunnie, who’s just jealous, and Ambrose, a perfectionist, who is slightly ticklish.

Some viewers will find more to recognize in the spots than others. Habitués of Barneys’ downtown store will recall the jewelry-display-cases-cum-fish-tanks, while astute listeners may recognize John Lurie’s voice in the Philip commercial. (He also composed the music for all six 15-second spots.)

“We were doing print, buses, taxi tops and billboards, and we felt that it would be a natural for television animation,” said Ronnie Cooke, creative director of Barneys New York. “We felt that in the context of television, doing something like this was very shocking, just as it was when we introduced illustration to the magazines. It did not look like anything else in print. We felt it would have that same impact on TV.”

The TV campaign, animated by The Ink Tank, will begin airing on Sept. 7 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, while the print campaign continues in publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, GQ, The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine.

It couldn’t be learned how much Barneys is spending on its fall ad campaign. However, Charles Bunstine, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Barneys, said that based on the store’s volume of about $300 million for the fiscal year that ended July 31, the store will spend 2.7 percent of sales, or about $8 million, on advertising for the entire year.

When the campaign first broke, some said Barneys would never be able to sell clothing with illustrated ads.

“We’re selling everything,” Cooke countered. “The clothes have been selling even more through this type of format than through photography because you don’t feel hung up if you can’t relate to the model.

“Style is more about contemporary nuances and behavior,” she continued. “That’s what we portray. Anyone can put clothes on a model. We’re lucky because we feel we have a Barneys culture we can tap into in a way that other stores cannot.”

In fact, the Barneys creative team tapped into the store’s culture more than most people know. The store was used as a backdrop, and the characters were developed by illustrator Jean Philippe Delhomme and copywriter Glenn O’Brien, who observed and eavesdropped on customers.

“It’s a very self-referential campaign,” Cooke said. “We felt that we had such a colorful clientele and such an interesting culture that we decided to use our own environment.

“The characters are made up, but in a way, they’re not,” Cooke continued. “We spent a lot of time in the stores studying and photographing people. They’re all bits and pieces of people we’ve seen. You see the men in the store putting their suits and ties together. They’re so deep in concentration.”

Asked whether the campaign, with its inside jokes and references, will alienate some, Cooke said, “The thing about these drawings and the spots is they’re very universal. By not having a human, it’s easier to relate. If anything, they’re endearing to a large cross-section of people. Humor is a universal language.”