TRYING IT ON FOR SIZE
APPAREL FIRMS FLOCK TO THE WEB IN SEARCH OF THE RIGHT MARKETING FIT.
Byline: Lisa Lockwood / Rosemary Feitelberg / Karyn Monget
Noting the endless possibilities, some apparel companies are aggressively searching for ways to incor-porate the Web more fully into their marketing and media plans.
Here’s a look at the Web marketing plans of a range of companies in the sportswear, activewear and intimate apparel categories.
Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi, Strauss & Co. and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. are among the most active of major sportswear firms and have adopted a variety of Web strategies into their marketing plans. While only Guess is currently conducting e-commerce, it’s in the pipeline for Hilfiger and was tried and abandoned at Levi’s. Polo’s Web site will be launched in the fourth quarter with e-commerce.
Guess started selling online in March 1999. “From A to Z, we’re planning to have our entire company on the Internet,” said Paul Marciano, president of Guess. In terms of advertising activity, “Right now, it’s banners, Marciano said. “The space is small, and it’s very expensive.” He said while an ad in a magazine will reach about 1.5 million people, a banner on AOL reaches 22 million people.
“Right now, all of us in the fashion industry are just trying to keep up with the technology. It takes a huge amount of people and investment,” said Marciano.
Ralph Lauren has decided to start selling direct to cybershoppers in the fourth quarter, on Polo.com, through a joint venture the designer struck with NBC and Value Vision. Industry observers anticipate new categories of goods and services such as food, travel and sporting goods will be offered at the site, under Lauren’s labels. Some, they said, could be tied in with experiences like vacations, concerts and spectator sports to create a Lauren lifestyle portal, enhanced by the site’s content and interactive elements.
Levi’s online marketing strategy involves tie-ins to offline advertising and point-of-sale materials.
“I think what the Internet will do is put the control of advertising in the hands of the consumer. If they want to see images, they can go to the Web site and see multiple images. Our goal at Levi’s is to provide relevant content for that younger audience,” said Jim Stone, Internet marketing manager at Levi’s. To that end, the site highlights bands that Levi’s represents and includes tour dates, interviews and clothing the stars wore. Last year, Levi’s created a collection for Lauryn Hill and her tour and sold it via the Web.
Levi’s Flat Eric commercial was created to promote Sta-Prest; consumers were able to download the TV commercial. “It was one of the first integrated programs on the Web site that featured TV ads,” he said.
Tommy.com, which went up last December, promotes campaigns such as Tommy Jeans’ “Unreleased Cuts” promotion, which is a nationwide search for young musicians. Visitors can download music and have the opportunity to vote on bands that are vying for a demo deal with Qwest Records.
Peter Connolly, the new president of Tommy.com, said he’s talking to retailers about joint ventures and setting up Tommy shops within retail Web sites.
“Right now, it’s only a marketing vehicle for us,” said Connolly of the company’s Internet presence. “We use it for one-to-one relationships. We send e-mails to customers about events in their particular areas, new product lines and if Tommy’s doing an appearance in their area.”
This winter Nike lured “a couple million” consumers to its Web site and online store with three commercials for its Air Cross Trainer II, according to Keith Peters, director of content development for Nike.com. Each spot stopped abruptly at a precipitous moment in a chase scene and encouraged viewers to visit Nike’s site to choose from one of seven endings.
“We characterize our online marketing efforts as very closely related to our advertising,” Peters said. “We also want to encourage people to come visit our site.” And that site is about to get a major overhaul. Nike is making a “multimillion dollar investment” to rebuild its online store by the end of the summer, Peters said. Making online product presentation more interesting and providing more information about technical products are priorities, he said.
Puma aims to give consumers individual treatment at its Web site. Launched last month, Puma.com offers visitors their own customized soundtracks to listen to while shopping. They can also e-mail tennis star Serena Williams and other Puma-sponsored athletes, and check out movie previews from New Regency or Fox Entertainment, two of Puma’s major shareholders.
Puma is using its site to relay a cooler image, build its customer database and gain a better understanding of online consumers, said Darren Ross, the 25-year-old head of global interactive marketing and business.
In the next six months, Puma plans to launch Pumaskate.com, a lifestyle-oriented site that will feature action footage shot by amateur skateboarders.
Adidas has been aggressive about online advertising. The brand plans to plug Trainingforsport.com, a new site for high school athletes that focuses on skills, on such popular teen sites as Bolt.com, Snowball.com, Sportingnews.com and Mxgonline. All of Adidas’s advertising for this summer’s Olympics in Sydney will tag the Trainingforsport.com site, said Lucy Reynolds, marketing communications manager.
Converse is also using its Web site to reinforce the brand’s print and outdoor advertising. A few days after Converse launched its “Just Rubber and a Blank Canvas” outdoor advertising campaign — primarily blank posters that invite graffiti — last month, the company posted some of the more interesting designs on a new site, Chucktaylor.com. New designs will be posted online on a weekly basis. Converse, which reintroduced women’s apparel last month, wants to use the Web’s marketing power to reach its target market, “women and men between the ages of 21 and 35; urbanites who understand art, have an eclectic taste and know what’s happening from a fashion standpoint,” said Hal Worsham, director of worldwide licensing and public relations director.
Fila is building a feature on its Web site that will support its current TV and print advertising campaign, which focuses on the balance of sport and life, said Todd McDonald, manager of electronic commerce.
Lucy.com, an online store that caters to active women, aims to leverage its new sponsorship deal with the Sanex Women’s Tennis Association tour. This summer, Lucy.com plans to set up links to the WTA’s site, offer more content about tennis and host online chats with tennis pros, according to Vicki Reed, marketing manager.
“Being a Web site is not like the shopping experience people have with a salesperson,” Reed added. “We’re going to get out there this summer to meet with as many women as we can. There are so many wonderful things to do with the Internet that are turnkey. But at the same time, the human touch helps and it’s hard to replicate.”
The world of intimate apparel is gearing up for a full court press on the Web, looking to build upon Victoria’s Secret’s groundbreaking (if technically problematical) live Web lingerie show that choked Internet servers with traffic worldwide.
On the drawing board or in play are sweepstakes, gifts-with-purchase, more live online fashion shows and special showcases for aspiring designers, all intended to stimulate sales and gather information on the online innerwear consumers’ likes and dislikes.
Virtual fitting rooms for foundations, mainly bras, are popping up where consumers can see which particular bra style will look best underneath a certain neckline, and which bras give a gentle, natural-looking uplift or super-duper cleavage. Herroom.com, introduced this year, is a key example of this service-oriented approach and features a number of national brands.
Then, there are sites such as Joeboxer.com, which features zany co-op deals to get consumers excited, like “Buy any five Joe Boxer products & fly a friend to London and back for $99.” The focus here, while fun, is squarely on the consumer.
Victoria’s Secret — the specialty retailer who transformed lingerie from a basic commodity into a fashion product in the American marketplace — is by far the most aggressive marketer of lingerie on the Web and is out to make the Victoria’s Secret name a worldwide brand.
Its official launch of Victoriassecret.com in 1999 was a milestone in online apparel merchandising, with a live Webcast from the runway that proved so popular — after a temporary meltdown due to overwhelming traffic — that it attracted orders from 37 countries. The day after the fashion show, the site posted more than 100 million hits, and in the following 10 weeks, a gargantuan tally of close to half a billion, according to the firm’s parent, Intimate Brands.
The lingerie specialist’s big push on the Internet now includes the chance to win a private online screening of its next Web extravaganza, the Victoria’s Secret Cannes 2000 Fashion Show. The planned formal runway show, which will be Webcast live May 18, is said to be causing a commotion among organizers of the Cannes Film Festival, largely because the highly nationalistic French believe it will steal the thunder of the celebrities who typically bask in the star-studded spotlight.
That hubbub is just fine for Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and chief executive officer of Intimate Brands, who noted in a WWD interview last year that the Cannes spectacle “will identify the brand with very glamorous people. It will be very newsworthy.”
Meanwhile, other lingerie retailers such as Frederick’s of Hollywood are penetrating the rapidly filling Net scene. Fredericksofhollywood.com, known for its naughty lingerie, is being updated to feature perks from romantic music to a broad range of fashion tips to encourage multiple sales.
Sleepwear firm Carole Hochman Designs Inc. relies on its site as a virtual focus group forum. “We did the site mainly for communication. We like to hear from our customers, what she likes, what she doesn’t,” said Carole Hochman, president and design director. “Our latest promotion is a contest inviting designers to submit a design. The winner receives a free gift from my Dream Home Collection,” she said, noting that the promotion runs through June 11.
“The Internet is a great way for women to buy intimates,” said Allison Porter, director of merchandising for Barenecessities.com, an online store introduced last year. “It provides a discreet environment for women to find answers to their often-embarrassing fitting and sizing problems.”