AD LIB: PETER ARNELL

Byline: L.L.

NEW YORK — Peter Arnell, chairman and executive creative director of The Arnell Group, a marketing/advertising firm, is probably best known for his creative work for Donna Karan and DKNY. Regarded as one of the top creative forces in fashion advertising, Arnell has been in the business for 16 years. His current client list includes Banana Republic, Chanel fragrances and cosmetics and Ray-Ban.

Q: Whose advertising do you consider cutting edge? Whose ads are looking tired?
A: I don’t think “cutting edge” can be judged by virtue of its esthetic. It has to be judged by virtue of its message. For me, the leaders are Calvin Klein and Gianni Versace, who influence the rest of the world, Nike, and probably The Gap.
Who’s looking tired? All department store advertising. I wish that I could have the opportunity to work on a retail account in order to give a great boost and energy to that industry, which at the moment in fashion advertising appears to be the most tired and backward, with the exception of Barneys.
Q: How does fashion advertising weigh in, in terms of creativity and sophistication?
A: Fashion advertisers try to take on the responsibility of depicting the trends. It’s much closer to the speed of the world at that moment — the world’s visual culture. They try to achieve their vision publicly, in trying to let people know how to dress. In most cases, it’s much more related to trends — which in some cases they create — than timelessness.
In cosmetics, since the industry is all over the place, I don’t think anybody stands out or has done anything controversial. They’ve taken on this very important made-up role of self-pronounced arbiter of information. Most things are done by big companies, and advertising is the result of a committee. Usually you don’t see statues in the park of more than one person.
Q: What do you think of Ed McCabe’s comment in Ad Lib two weeks ago that most fashion advertising is “the hot photographer with the good-looking girl”?
A: I think Ed McCabe probably should pick up a magazine. It’s clear he’s out of touch. Discounting the importance the talent and photographer play in any advertising seems to me to be very naive. Why are these components any less or more important than words, or putting the guy who owns a chicken company in front of America?
Part of Mr. McCabe’s desire to put Frank Perdue in front of a camera was how he looked, as well as its positioning and market plan. We’re in a business that’s trying to promote how someone looks or could look…to promote positive reinforcement and self-confidence. This depiction by a photographer of talent is obviously a critical component of this approach. At the end of the day, the true great spokespeople in our generation are these supermodels who contribute to the bottom line they work for. They are marketing torpedoes. They are launched toward the customer for all the right reasons.
Q: How effective is the use of controversy?
A: I think it’s very critical that you try and develop a campaign that stands out against the competition. But depending on the industry you’re in, or the publication, you push the meter to a greater or lesser amount. Controversy, if possible, is a very good thing because it enables people both from a consumer and trade side to participate in a dialog beyond the observation of the ad. I think it’s very critical, but unfortunately we don’t see enough of it. I think people like Paul Marciano [of Guess], with Wayne Maser; Luciano Benetton with Oliveri Toscani, and Calvin Klein, initially with Bruce Weber, are great contributors to this notion of really pushing the limits of advertising.
Q: Whose advertising do you most admire?
A: For me, over the last decade, the most important advertising has come from Nike. They have been the ones who have truly understood the importance sports and health have played into the lifestyles of the culture of the fashion customer.
Q: How can ad agencies help their clients with new media?
A: In this period of transition, we have to rethink our approach to communication. If agencies and marketing companies are not prepared with talent, as well as desire, to help build a client, develop their corporate identity, help them in electronic media, as well as create an ad, they will no longer exist in the year 2000. The period we live in is to prepare for the next century. We have an obligation to involve technical and varied, rather abnormal media within the programs we define for our clients. I believe strongly that marketing and agency companies should head toward a true partnership relationship, accepting the risk of the market competition, as their client does, instead of servicing the accounts. The critical area to study today is the development of all enabling technologies and interactive software for all communication and sales purposes.

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