ELLEN TRACY TAKES TO THE TUBE

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — It may be too pricy for most fashion labels, but Ellen Tracy believes in the power of television.
To promote its Company Ellen Tracy casual brand this fall, the bridge sportswear firm devoted about 40 percent of its $10-million advertising budget to national commercials.
And according to Tracy’s ad agency, Ziccardi & Partners here, viewers in an estimated 60 million to 70 million American households have seen the 30-second spots, which saturated the airwaves for a two-week period that ended Tuesday.
“It’s a very modern approach to capture the audience,” said Linda Allard, design director for Ellen Tracy and Company Ellen Tracy. “I love television. In the modern age, it’s something everyone watches. We used TV advertising to set ourselves apart.”
Apart, indeed.
“It’s unusual for a fashion bridge designer to use television the way we did,” acknowledged Donald Ziccardi, president of Ziccardi & Partners, “but it was very effective because we did it the right way. We wanted to accelerate the branding process, and television is the most effective medium because it reaches the most people in the shortest amount of time.”
Historically, major jeans manufacturers such as Levi, Strauss & Co. and Lee have been the only apparel firms to spend big bucks on TV. Ziccardi wonders why that’s the case. “Television has glamour and sophistication,” he said. “It’s immediate, it’s visual and it’s visceral. That all adds to the memorability.”
The moody, artful Company commercials feature Christy Turlington caught in a variety of lifestyle scenarios: riding a bicycle, walking through a stand of birch trees, drinking coffee with her boyfriend at a diner. Similar images also appear in print ads, which also received 40 percent of the Company ad budget. The balance, 20 percent, went to billboards and buses. “We didn’t cut back on print or direct,” Ziccardi noted.
Concentrated in five metropolitan markets — New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles — the spots aired during “Ellen,” “Spin City,” “Mad About You,” “Chicago Hope” and “20/20” for high visibility and reach; during the “Tonight” show and “David Letterman” to hit young, edgier consumers, and during shows like “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood” and “Extra” to put the brand in the context of celebrities and glamor, Ziccardi said.
But has it moved the merch in the stores?
Retailers were reluctant to comment on any impact the commercials might have had on store traffic and sales of Company Ellen Tracy, saying it would be conjecture to do so. Purchasing decisions, they stressed, are based on a complex of factors, not the least of which are the virtues of the merchandise itself.
Frank Doroff, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Bloomingdale’s, said its Company Ellen Tracy business has been “very strong” in recent weeks, with sales up double digits.
But he said the retailer also staged a major sales event last week called Shopping Night that accelerated many vendors’ figures. “Company had a spectacular week, but I could not attribute it directly to television,” he said.
Allard agreed it’s difficult to measure the direct impact of the commercials since the company does not monitor traffic in its department store shops.
But she said the best indicator for her of television’s power was a personal appearance she made at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta Sept. 20, an event promoted in a voiceover and text at the end of the Company commercials. A spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus said about 200 people attended the event.
“The store was all abuzz,” Allard said. “Our business is good, and we think TV contributed to that.”
Company first tested television commercials last spring, airing six 15-second commercials of model Meghan Douglas in introspective moments on such shows as “Mad About You” in New York and Los Angeles.
Ziccardi portrayed the Company commercials as an image-building tool rather than a “direct-response” vehicle.
“The impact is primarily over the long term,” he said. “It’s certainly about visibility and getting people talking about Ellen Tracy.”
Those talkers included talk show diva Rosie O’Donnell, who mentioned the Company spots on a recent program — as well as the fact that she was wearing Ellen Tracy. It was an unexpected TV double whammy.
Ziccardi said he’s happy to be a pioneer in bringing bridge sportswear brands to the tube. “It’ll be interesting to see what fashion advertisers follow our footsteps,” he said.

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