DOUBLING UP: FASHION’S LATEST PLOY

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Motorcycles and makeup? Pop and polo shirts?
They’re no longer such strange bedfellows, as more fashion firms team up with marketers of other consumer products as a cost-effective way to multiply their advertising reach and create a richer brand experience.
The latter was certainly the case last Monday night, when comedian Sandra Bernhard, astride a red Ducati with matching MAC lipstick, roared into a party hosted by the makers of her mode of transportation and her makeup.
“Certain brands share a certain part of the same headspace in people’s minds,” mused MAC president John Demsey. “People don’t just relate to certain products. They relate to lifestyles.”
MAC teamed up with Ducati to give life to the theme of its fall colors, titled “lady danger.” And it found a willing partner in Ducati, which is eager to reach women, the fastest growing purchasers of sport motorcycles. Demsey said both brands will benefit from the association.
“I think of it as putting together different groups, and hopefully something stimulating comes out of it,” agreed David Gross, Ducati’s director of strategic planning. “I’m not looking for immediate sales.” Instead, he said a cobranded activity like its party builds loyalty in current customers and introduced potential new ones to an exciting sport.
For MAC, it’s a chance to tap into a new and expanding audience: the women who follow the racing circuit or who are enthusiasts themselves. Demsey said MAC and Ducati are contemplating more cobranding ventures this fall, possibly dispatching a fleet of makeup-armed riders to racing events.
Demsey said the association also fortifies MAC’s reputation for quirky, unexpected and risky marketing and helps it “break through the clutter” of other beauty advertising. “Who you chose to associate yourself with says a lot about yourself,” he said. “It helps you transcend. It puts you in a different context.”
While not new, the comarketing tactic reached a new zenith earlier this year when Polo Jeans Co. announced its initiative with Sprite involving hundreds of millions of bottles of cobranded soda, tens of thousands of vending machines and thousands of chances for consumers to win prizes.
In the recent past, examples of comarketing initiatives in the fashion/packaged goods area include Todd Oldham Jeans’ Polaroid I-Zone cameras, A|X Armani Exchange’s co-branded bottles of Jones Cola, Eddie Bauer’s cobranded Ford Explorer, and Tommy Hilfiger’s Cannondale bikes. DKNY has teamed up with Timothy’s World Coffee and also has an ongoing association with Ducati, including a cobranded line of apparel sold in some 15 DKNY stores.
“We are absolutely looking to do more of it in the future,” said Patti Cohen, executive vice president of global marketing and public relations at Donna Karan International. “It’s really opened up other audiences for us.”
She said the Ducati association, which springs from Karan’s husband Stephen Weiss’s personal fascination with the bikes, has helped draw more men to the DKNY brand — hopefully with girlfriends or wives in tow. Clearly, it also gives Ducati the glamorous cachet of a design-driven fashion brand. Looking to reprise a party held last year in its London store, DKNY and Ducati are zeroing in on a date for one in their Madison Avenue flagship this fall.
“It gives a lift to both,” she said. “It brought us a different audience, but it’s still a similar target audience.”
Ross Klein, senior vice president of marketing at Polo Jeans Co., stressed that partnerships between brands from disparate industries need to be creative, but above all, believable. “It has to make sense to the consumer as a, ‘Wow this is a neat thing,’ not a tag-teaming forced selling effort,” he said. “The companies must have not only a shared demographic, but also a shared integrity.”
Klein acknowledged that such partnerships are cost effective “not to save money necessarily, but to make a project bigger or better” by having more than one funding stream.
“It’s an opportunity to put a multiplier effect on your investment,” agreed Jim Schleifer, marketing director for Absolut at Seagram Americas, which has partnered with fashion designers in campaigns since 1988. At present, it has a print campaign with men’s wear firm Tom of Finland, but it has worked with the likes of Gucci and Versace.
Schleifer declined to say how much of Absolut’s budget goes to comarketing initiatives with fashion firms, but he said its research has shown that the campaigns have improved brand awareness and consumer perception. “I see people approaching us more and more,” he said.
Of course, not everyone is sold on the comarketing tactic. Although he would not rule it out for the future, Levi’s director of presence and publicity Roy Edmondson cautioned that there are risks inherent in hooking one’s fortunes to another brand. He said there’s a risk of “overexposure” and of losing control of distribution.
“As soon as you get into a wider range of consumer goods, you can find yourself in an environment in which you may not want to be seen as a fashion brand,” he said. “You become less able to control where you’re seen.”
Polo Jeans’ Klein acknowledged the risks — if a fashion firm does not know how its consumers feel about the potential partner.
“You must really get the right alignment of integrity, consumer feelings, believability, partnership parameters, a creative working relationship and financial commitments before you start down the road, otherwise I am sure it might be rocky,” he said. “Our partnerships do not begin execution until months of due diligence take place, both with the potential partner and the consumer.”