COTTON’S NEW ADS: YOUNGER, EDGY
Byline: Stuart Chirls
NEW YORK — Ever wonder what those strangest of political bedfellows, James Carville and Mary Matalin, actually look like in bed? How about Evander Holyfield in his skivvies?
Cotton Incorporated will show you these images and more when its new $35 million “Fabric of Our Lives” advertising campaign breaks in September.
The ads are the fourth generation of a fiber marketing phenomenon that has helped cotton garner a nearly 60 percent share of the men’s and women’s apparel markets since the first spots aired in 1989.
It was precisely that success that posed a dilemma for Cotton Inc., the marketing arm of American cotton growers. Baby boomers have for years been the target of the ads and the driving force behind retail sales of cotton-rich apparel. When Cotton Inc. executives sat down with longtime advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather in early 1997 to begin making plans for a campaign, executives realized they would have to move the concept in a different direction.
“There are many challenges faced by cotton today,” said J. Berrye Worsham 3rd, Cotton Inc.’s president and chief executive officer, in an exclusive preview of the ads Wednesday at the company’s offices here. “Demographics is one. We need to maintain effective communications with a program directed to the ultimate consumer of cotton, the retail customer. We also needed a program that was going to enable us to reach younger, new consumers from 16 to 24 years old, as well as the baby boomers. We have found that kids actually wear more cotton than their parents, but are less fiber-aware.”
That gave O&M the tricky task of creating ads that would stand out amid the visual chaos of MTV without seriously disturbing the more conservative sensibilities of a mainstream network audience. Oh, and make them edgy enough to keep viewers’ attention over the planned three years of the campaign.
The overall presentation was crucial because of the campaign’s philosophical departure from the previous feel-good story lines constructed around individuals and situations — remember the giggling, roly-poly guy in a T-shirt trying to ice a cake? The new ads focus more on fabric and products than people.
“That cotton provides physical and emotional comfort is the underlying message here,” Worsham said. “We think this series of ads is much more fabric and youth-oriented, giving us branding among the next generation of consumers. It definitely moves the needle a little bit younger. We want to maintain the cutting edge.”
Worsham further noted, “A large market share is difficult to maintain and grow. The environment has a lot to do with that. Consumers are strapped for shopping time and have many choices for spending their dollars. We want to show them their choices.”
Four categories of cotton-based products — denim, underwear, sheets and corporate casual — are spotlighted, based on research that showed them to be an integral part of consumers’ lives. Each ad — one for each category — comes in 30-second and 60-second versions, except for corporate casual, which is 30 seconds only. The minute spots are intended for the longer ad formats of cable television.
The result is four commercials that marry bold, contemporary images with updated covers of Cotton Inc.’s theme, interspersed with celebrity cameos that will keep viewers playing “find the famous faces in the fiber.” In addition to Carville, Matalin, and Holyfield, Daisy Fuentes, Ivana Trump and Harpers Bazaar editor in chief Liz Tilberis make appearances.
Fuentes appears in denim shorts; Holyfield in — what else? — boxers; Trump in a robe; Tilberis in a turtleneck, and Carville and Matalin in bed.
Cotton Inc. will spend $15 million to run more than 400 spots on network and national cable from September through December, and $10 million in 1998, about the same budget as that of the last campaign. So-called “big events,” similar to Cotton’s sponsorship of “The Lion King” on ABC last fall, are expected.
Print ads will be featured in trade publications, although no consumer print buys are planned. Cotton Inc. will sponsor a professional in-line skating tour, a youth-oriented sport where jeans and T-shirts are the uniform.
With up to 30 separate scene cuts, 13 actors per ad and four separate sound tracks, the ad shoot took on a life of its own. Debi Feinman, a senior partner and management supervisor at O&M, assembled a multi-ethnic cast of 45 nonactors ranging from toddlers and skateboard kids to dancers, farmers and seniors. A wheelchair-bound man, a decathlete, a yoga master and a couple of Russian circus performers were thrown in for good measure.
The ads feature a lot of slow motion, framed in vibrant hues and chiaroscuro, with the characters posed alongside youthful touchstones such as drums, bicycles and a Pontiac GTO. Humorous moments remain a staple of Cotton’s ads, and pithy tag lines fade in and out. Over a shot of a brooding Holyfield: “Never be intimidated. Just imagine the other guy in his underwear.”
The commercials also will revive Cotton Inc.’s vintage animated logo — the seal of cotton — from the Seventies.
Shooting began Jan. 16 and wrapped up Feb. 4 in Los Angeles, and was directed by Jeff Preiss of Epoch Films, Los Angeles. The editing alone took five weeks at JUMP here. Crushing Studios here provided the music — Latin for denim, contemporary pop rock for underwear, blues for sheets and swing for corporate casual.