The creative heads behind advertising agency Laspata DeCaro — Rocco Laspata and Charles DeCaro — are coming up on their 20th year in business together. After a long career developing campaigns for brands such as Perry Ellis, Americana Manhasset, Harry Winston, Estée Lauder and Revlon, the two are planning a gallery exhibition of their work next year. Laspata and DeCaro recently spoke with WWD about new ad campaigns, the state of creativity today and how technology has changed the business. — Amy Wicks

WWD: What campaigns are you working on right now?
Rocco Laspata:
We’re about to photograph the spring campaign for Americana Manhasset with Lily Donaldson in Miami. As with past campaigns, we’re once again maintaining a narrative approach. Our muse for the story is part Babe Paley, part Lauren Bacall. The mood will convey an effortless chic via TechniColor still visuals which will live online with a digital video interactive component. During the photo session, time will be allocated to film a 30-second branding piece. Media placement is in the planning stage.
Charles DeCaro: When Perry Ellis became a client, our strategy was to respect the brand’s heritage and take Perry back to its roots, reclaiming the beach as the canvas for the visuals as in the original iconic campaigns. Although we’ve clearly updated the photographic style and employed varied techniques which keep the visuals evolving and relevant each season, the beach remains a constant.
R.L.: Our affiliation with Ulta Beauty has been a particularly gratifying experience. When they initially became a client, there were 170 stores. There are now nearly 350 nationwide and an extensive array of new product offerings. The original challenge was to quantify that Ulta was a store and not a beauty brand. We are not the “Tag Lines ‘R’ Us” type, but felt a tag line was crucial to communicate the message. “The store on everyone’s lips” was introduced in the second season of the campaign. This season the visuals will be photographed outdoors in natural light. The format will remain clean and uncluttered, incorporating minimal text without the ubiquitous product that is often associated with beauty advertising.
C.D.: We visited the Jantzen swimwear archives in Portland, Ore. Talk about a treasure trove of inspiration. We discovered that Varga was at one point commissioned to illustrate the ad campaigns. We referenced his drawings in photographing the new creative, and in post, introduced very cool illustrative nuances. In a world where content rules, a viral video will specify the attributes and appropriate fits for varied body types.

This story first appeared in the December 9, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD: For the holidays and looking ahead to spring, have you seen brands pull back their ad spend?
R.L.: Honestly, I would say spending is not as dire for the holidays as we originally anticipated and momentum is building for spring.
C.D.: The inert cloud of gloom appears to be lifting. There’s renewed activity and optimism. No one is belting out “Happy Days Are Here Again” just yet, but for now, most have shelved their contingency plans to explore the appeal of baking recession-proof cupcakes.

WWD:
What role does technology play in marketing?
C.D.: Shouldn’t we be tweeting instead of talking? You know, anything I say about the invaluable importance of technology in marketing appears somewhat clichéd at this point because so much has already been said. For starters, there are three million articles in WWD alone each day extolling another groundbreaking application. Of course it’s the most important communication phenomenon since Al Jolson sang and Garbo talked. Of course every client of ours has a Facebook page. Of course our resources were pale by comparison before this technological advent. Of course it’s empowering to have the capacity to shop and schmooze in the palm of your hand, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. What is most compelling, however, is the ability for a brand to develop a relationship, a virtual dialogue, an intimacy with a consumer and appropriate that information in the creation of products that tap into a shopper’s psyche and deliver what they actually want, deserve and will buy. Increases in sales aside, seizing this crucial data is the ultimate return on investment.

WWD: What is the state of creativity today?
C.D.: With few exceptions, there is a pervasive aura of sameness in fashion advertising — for the most part, a blur of imagery with little defining subtext or proprietary messaging. The “handbag du jour” genre of marketing is a primary catalyst. I recognize its importance from a sales perspective, but the brand’s soul is compromised as a result.

 

R.L.: Fashion advertising does not singularly inhabit this creative vacuum. When you factor the ubiquitous reality-TV formula, the dearth of quality films and the obsession with third-tier — for lack of a better word — celebrities into the equation, the fashion industry is infinitely more creative. In some ways, the economic tsunami, budgetary constraints and reduced assets present an opportunity to hone and readapt the creative process in response. If shooting in Paris is no longer in the cards, the challenge is to make magic with crepe paper and balloons at Milk Studios.

WWD: What are some trends you are seeing in the marketplace?
R.L.: Today’s consumer is savvy, more discerning and increasingly sophisticated by virtue of the digital tools available that were nonexistent in the not-so-distant past. Engaging and exciting the consumer is crucial in cementing brand loyalty. Connectivity in the marketplace is essential. Retailers can no longer assume that if you build it, they will come. C.D.: In any economic correction, a paradigm shift is inevitable in all facets of commerce, from the cars we drive to the clothing we buy. Discriminating consumers are assessing priorities and questioning purchases more than ever. Do I really need this? Does it have a shelf life? Is it worth the price? Is it well made? Heightened expectations ultimately separate wise investments from stuff.

 

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