Image courtesy of WSJ
I admit it. I haven’t read my W in a couple of months. Yikes. Who has the time, sometimes. But this past week, with finally a full seven days of rest and review, I’ve been going through some of my old stuff and came across one of my favorite writers – W Magazine’s former favorite countess, Louise J. Esterhazy. Now the funny thing about The Countess is not only was she not a countess, she wasn’t even a woman. Her insights however, have been strongly (and unusually) female and her taste throughout the years, undeniably superior. Today, I am re-printing one of my favorite articles about marketing and branding, that by necessity, in its paper form, will be making its way to the shredder as a celebration of quite a few bold changes in 2011. The article quite honestly is a bit dated as I am pretty sure Madonna has a clothing line, the Beckhams are currently keeping a low profile after David’s public infidelity rather than conquering America, and Angelina Jolie is now more known for stealing Brad Pitt from Jennifer Anniston than anything else these days. … and Jen still can’t seem to let it go. The ideas however are still “stylish,” funny and “on the money,” and the sentiment, shall happily remain with me and recorded on my blog for as long as it continues.
Taking Care of Business
The Countess puts on her thinking cap and ponders marketing strategy and the making of a brand.
Oh, how I love old Westerns – the stampeding cattle, the endless vistas, the rough-hewn men of action, all that gingham! So when I stumbled across Red River with John Wayne on TV, I couldn’t help curling up on the sofa in my pied-a-terre to watch Montgomery Clift yell, “Brand all of them!”
As the credits rolled, I didn’t imagine myself lassoing a steer, but my mind instead took me back to when I was young in Paris, Oh, those were the days! It was then that I became aware of brands: Christian Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Charvet, Fouquet for chocolates and of course, most of the great châteaux of Burgundy and Bordeaux. These were, and still are , names that had been around for decades, if not centuries.
But many great names have gotten lost in today’s shuffle. Why? Because now the world is all about brands. Everything is branded: hedge funds, TV companies, drug companies, mattress retailers, nails, water, even chefs. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a brand as his restaurants pop up all over the world, while La Grenouille isn’t. As Charles Masson says, There is only one, and we live in the moment and create in the moment. We aren’t expected to do the same thing over and over again throughout the world.”
Move and music stars are brands bigger than in the days of the Duke. Bono is branded as the Activist Rocker for his work with AIDS; Angelina Jolie is becoming known as the Adoptive Actress: Madonna is, simply, Madonna (she hasn’t even designed a line of clothes with H&M); and Victoria and David Beckham are Posh and Becks trying to conquer America.
Socialites, too, are dying to be branded, although all the free dresses they can get can’t guarantee their place in brand heaven. As these women preen. pose and prance for the paparazzi, they gorget that elite names like Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness and C.Z. Guest haven’t faded, because they had true style.
It’s not just the socialites who are desperate to be branded, though. Their rich husbands are, in many cases, eager to do the same. The Kravises, the Schwarzmans, the Gateses, the Buffetts (and not just because he owns the Geico lizard) are marked with a big S for “success” and want the world to know it. It all has to do with labeling.
Everyone wants to be labeled, which means being recognized. Would tycoons, movie stars, artists, conductors and designers walk into a crowded room if no one knew their brand? They want everyone to whisper “Do you know who that is?” and not “Why in God’s name is that?”
It all boils down to the fact that a brand – be it a person or a product – has to do something for us, the way a Coca-Cola with a squeeze of Sunkist lemon cools you off after a hot day on the tennis court. A brand is really branded when there is quality, uniqueness and style.
That idea is old-fashioned, of course, but so am I. Today many of the products are almost all the same – mouthwash is mouthwash, and one detergent is just as good as another. But it’s the brand that sticks in our imaginations.
And we love names that stick. Everyone knows Viagra, where or not they’ve needed it (although now it’s easier to get since it is being sold over the counter in the UK)> Or things that really can’t be called a brand, like HeadOn. We can hate the commercial, but everyone has a headache now and then, and it works (or so we are led to believe).
Getting back to my original though about Dior, Chanel and even Nike: When one enters their stores, you are walking into their worlds, their clothes, their style. and it’s still something special, created through uncanny foresight. These companies have carried on their brands for decades (in the case of the House of Dior, 60 years this year ) and still don’t tumble. They say fashion is fleeting but is seems to last, brandwise, when designers understand that looking better and feeling better are what really count.
Of course, we all can take this branding thing way too seriously, especially in fashion. What many designers forget is that the best brands always offer a soupcon of fun. As Carolina Herrera said when asked what makes a brand: “I don’t know. but if you add a y, it’s brandy to drink.”
Cheers to that. ~ Louise J. Esterhazy