NEW YORK — Models beware: In the junior market, it takes more than a pretty face to land a job.
At least that’s the theory behind junior lines using musicians in their ad campaigns.
In the latest trend since the return of the Bedazzler, teen brands are banking on young, hot artists such as Shakira, Willa Ford and Christina Milian to reach target audiences and boost brand recognition.
Although a teenage girl and a fashion executive would agree that image is everything, decisions aren’t based solely on looks when booking that diva for an ad campaign. Executives in the teen market said money, timing and the artist’s personality are all taken into account.
For Lori Lambert, vice president of strategic marketing and development at Epic Records, pairing musicians with brands is a win-win situation.
“I’ve never seen it not work,” she said. “I work with most of the direct marketers, and we’ve done incredibly successful campaigns.”
Since teens are so tapped into trends, Lambert said the junior market shows the most promise for a successful celebrity campaign. As for mixing the images of a brand and an artist, Lambert said junior fashion firms and record labels often target the same audience. Fashion executives said they agree for the most part, if the artist’s character coincides with the company’s image.
Milian passed the test for Dollhouse, which will run ads featuring the R&B singing sensation in the March issue of YM and Elle Girl, as well as an outdoor kiosk program in New York.
“Christina has a healthy body, positive outlook on life — she’s incredibly upbeat and very bright,” said Dana Sheill, director of licensing and brand management at Dollhouse. “She’s not this anorexic stick figure. She’s a real girl who’s talented and really went after her singing career. That’s a positive role model.”
Teen clothing catalog Delia’s also looked for a role model when it booked Latin pop star Shakira for its spring cover.
“We’re not saying ‘be Shakira,”‘ said Hilary Chasin, executive vice president of marketing at Delia’s. “She has a sense of empowerment and individuality. She writes her own music and isn’t a cookie-cutter rock star. We listened to her music and loved her lyrics, and her target audience is aligned with ours.”
As a result of the star’s certain style, Delia’s has created a special section of the catalog educating girls on how to achieve Shakira’s bohemian look using their merchandise. Also, customers can enter to win one of her guitars and a Delia’s gift certificate.
“From the customer’s experience, there’s a different level of immersion to the program,” Chasin said. “We’re seeing really great early reads on the book, and they’re really gravitating toward the Shakira look.”
From the artist’s perspective, buyers can hear Shakira’s music and watch her videos on the Internet. Also, an enhanced CD single of her hit “Whatever, Wherever” was offered as a gift-with-purchase, Chasin said.
“We’ve worked with athletes and up-and-coming musicians, but this is probably the first time we have created such a synergistic program,” Chasin explained.
For retail chain Wet Seal, R&B and soul group 3LW helped draw customers into the store after the chain used the group in fall campaigns, according to Steve Strickland, senior vice president, creative marketing.
After Strickland discovered the three girls were customers of the Miami-based retailer and its private label jeans line Blue Asphalt, Wet Seal produced custom-made jeans for the group’s concert. Subsequently, the trio posed in the custom jeans for advertisements.
Meanwhile, in stores, shoppers could buy rhinestones, chains, studs and a Bedazzler to create their own version of the customized denim. Further, they could enter their creations in a contest to win a trip to Hawaii and meet the group backstage at a concert produced by MTV.
But Strickland said the idea of associating with celebrities isn’t necessarily about replicating their look.
“Celebrities have become the 21st-century mentors in terms of style, and not just for teen girls.”
Furthering the idea of role models, Candie’s, a company that’s used sex symbols like Jenny McCarthy, Alyssa Milano and Destiny’s Child in the past, now uses celebrities to inform kids about teen pregnancy in their campaign.
“We’ve always used celebrities as role models, but our new campaign uses ‘NSync and Macy Gray. It’s a really good way of communicating,” said Neil Cole, chief executive officer.
Cole said even though celebrities are great for ads and lend a sense of credibility to the brand, it’s the product that shines through at the end of the day.
Starting in March, Bongo Apparel will feature ads with Lava/Atlantic Records recording artist Willa Ford in YM, Teen People and Seventeen. Bongo, which is owned by Candie’s Inc., took a departure from its moderate campaigns of the past to show Ford perched against a 1969 yellow Mustang.
“It will be interesting to see what kind of reactions and sales results we receive,” said Gary Bader, president of Bongo.
While the rewards of using a celebrity can be plentiful, executives said it is not a risk-free decision. One ceo said a disgruntled mom dragged her celebrity daughter from a campaign shoot, costing the company $50,000.
“Heaven forbid they get in a drunk-driving incident,” said Dollhouse’s Sheill. “Once they go out and do something awful, you’re guilty by association.”
On the flipside, using a celebrity that doesn’t muster up any attention can also cost the brand time and money.
“They cost a lot of money, and it can be a very hit-or-miss deal,” Sheill added. “Someone can be very hot, and then, by the time your ads come out, they could be gone.”
Fortunately for Dollhouse, Milian agreed to work with the company for cross-promotion exposure, such as the mention of her album in the ads.
But Epic’s Lambert said even if an artist falls out of vogue or never hits her stride, the collaboration is about fun.
On The Cover
On Kelis, left: Cotton and Lycra spandex denim military jacket by Armani Jeans with Bella Dahl’s cotton and Lycra corduroy pants. Shoes by Claudio Merazzi. On Tina: Jill Stuart Jeans’ cotton T-shirt with Seven Jeans’ cotton cargo jeans. Shoes by Sigerson Morrison; hat by Jennifer Scott at Apropo.