Nostalgia as the name of the game
Nostalgia has been the name of the game for many in the world of TMT [technology, media, telecommunications] for a couple of years now, as TV series are rebooted and eras brought back to life (think Fox’s The X-Files and Netflix’s Stranger Things, FX’s The Americans respectively), movie franchises are retooled (think Kong: Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast) and books also drag people back to the 80s (think Entertainment Weekly’s number 1 book of 2016, The Nix).
Nostalgia is almost certainly an appealing emotion for many media executives today too. In entertainment, they may look back to fond days before PwC screwed up who won an Oscar and who hadn’t; in technology, vendors are leveraging “digital detox” trends as an excuse to remake old products and in publishing many are surely screaming for the days before digital, when staff at the likes of Conde Nast were still allowed to throw “hissy fits” (to quote British Vogue’s Lucinda Chambers from the recent BBC documentary on the magazine). The empire is having to fast come to grips with a world of declining print revenue shared by all in the industry, as comprehensively covered in a recent piece by the Financial Times.
The one outlier to this trend, fortunately for them, is Viacom, which recently decided that instead of seeking refuge in the past (and in sheer scale) by re-teaming with CBS after splitting over ten years ago, it would instead streamline its operations down to six “flagship brands”. Undoubtedly the wiser move (if only based on the above cheat sheet from The Hollywood Reporter).
This article will focus on those first two issues, last weekend’s Academy Awards and last week’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.
Talk about your burning platform. Last night Zeitgeist sat down to watch Deepwater Horizon, last year’s film an avoidable disaster in an event involving a lot of due diligence, seemingly little of which was executed properly.
So it was – far less catastrophically – with the 89th Academy Awards last weekend. PwC were caught out for the first time, having overseen the awards ceremony’s handing out of winning envelopes, among other things, for 83 years. In their apology, the firm explicitly made reference to the fact that a) such an incident had been foreseen b) protocols had been prepared, in case of such a rare eventuality c) these were not followed through quickly enough on the night. As with many cases of significant error, the fault appears to be with an excess of comfort.
- Firstly, PwC as a firm, it could be argued, had become too comfortable in the role of auditor. In an interview before the ceremony with one of the two partners involved, it was revealed the opportunity to be auditor for the awards had never gone out to tender. This is poor due diligence on the part of the Academy.
- Secondly, Brian Cullinan, one of the PwC partners, seemed himself to have acquired too much comfort with his role. Whether this was tweeting (hastily deleted) pictures of Emma Stone at the moment he should have been concentrating on his work (see picture above), as Variety revealed, or – as the same publication also uncovered the other day – that he wanted to have an on-stage presence, involving a skit with the host, Jimmy Kimmel.
- Thirdly, we would also add that – having worked for Deloitte in a strategy role in days gone by – PwC should never have let these two individuals stand in the limelight. Any project, however glamorous (or not), should always have only one face, that of the company as a whole, not an individual.
The eventual winner, Moonlight, was praised by The Economist (among many others) for being a wonderful film, and one that deserved to win the coveted Best Picture award. Interestingly, it noted how it had been made for “a tenth” of the budget of films that had won in the past several years. This is a worrying trend, as these prior winners were already considered to be of a small budget; minnows that did not attract the attention of the studios, who increasingly find themselves in the comic-book franchise game, rather than the Oscar race. It bodes poorly in the medium-term for the release and backing of films that try to tell human stories about real life; art that may actually have an impact on others. It is these types of films that, with current political turmoil, are needed right now.
Innovation in mobile is becoming harder and harder to come by. If, as Forrester reported recently, smartphones are in the hands of 40% of the global population (even including those people hanging out with penguins in icy tundras and running away from lions on barren plains) then such a product is in need of something new to differentiate the market for consumers. At the annual Mobile World Congress, such things were in short supply. This week’s Economist quoted Ben Wood of CCS Insight summarising the event as a “sea of sameness”.
Indeed, ZTE (as above), had a gloriously twee “fairy garden” on display, which seemed very very similar to the one we saw at MWC in 2016. From a product point of view, Nokia (yes, Nokia) seemed to generate the most buzz for its revamped 3310, a resurrected product from a bygone mobile age. A feeling of sameness hung in the air from those reporting from the ground too; cynicism was prevailing.
Last year, Zeitgeist found that if you didn’t have Oculus at your stand (for any reason, no matter how inconsequential), you were a nobody. You also needed to be talking about 5G (no matter how vaguely). The same seemed to be the case this year, except more so. This, despite the fact that Oculus has squandered an eighteen-month lead in the market, now with a position of third in the VR marketplace by revenue. VR in general has yet to transfer to a mainstream pursuit, to the surprise of analysts. 5G, on the other hand, saw some glacial movement. While operators in Japan and South Korea had already begun investment and deployment of the networks before standardisation, the UN’s ITU body has now set those standards, laying the way for other markets to begin upgrading their networks. Their challenge is a formidable one, and to be honest they should not expect it to be anything other than a thankless task. Their main approach to this eventuality at the moment seems to be bigging the technology up beyond all recognition, which has started a backlash of sorts among the more experienced in the sector.
At Cannes Lions tomorrow, Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey will ask “What if ads didn’t have to look or feel like ads?”. In a guest post, Chloé Hajnal-Corob writes about how luxury goods companies are seeking new and diverging paths in order to engage with their customers. Chloé spent time working at a fashion startup earlier in the year, assisting with the launch of a fashion hub for Vine videos, among other things. She is currently placed at Editd, a fashion data insight company.
This spring, the House of Dior descended upon Harrods in London, one of the world’s premier department stores, for their “So Dior” exhibition and café. Last month, for one week only, Hermès had their “Festival des Métiers”, at London’s Saatchi Gallery. These two events represent a recent trend for providing luxury experiences, and though they are markedly different in some ways, they share a common goal: to drive revenues via brand education.
The “So Dior” exhibition, café and pop-up boutique took over a large designated area of Harrods alongside their usual concessions. Their presence was felt throughout, and Harrods have described the takeover as “a luxury-charged adventure combining French Savoir Faire and British charm”, the premise of which is to showcase the brand’s relationship with the store, and Christian Dior’s personal affiliation with the capital. Zeitgeist and I paid a visit, after seeing the social media hype from opening night. The event did not disappoint. On arrival, we were offered a private tour of the exhibition. What followed was a complete education into the history, heritage and identity of the brand and designers (Christian Dior, as well as Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano and now, Raf Simons). The assiduousness and attention to detail demonstrated in the event were striking, and the quality of the experience was exceptional. It stands in particular favour given it was a free event, especially when compared with similar exhibitions such as the recent Valentino show at Somerset House, for which entrance was £12.50. We wondered if Dior and Harrods would set a precedent for luxury experiences where no fee is charged. Enter Hermès’s Festival des Metiers, which has been touring the world in a travelling circus of craftsmen, demonstrating their skills, and charging nothing for the privilege of seeing them. This harks back to how customers at high-end boutiques are treated, but without obvious intent to purchase. We are rewarded for our passion for the brand, not simply our contribution to sales.
What is the ROI for these free events then, when the cost of execution is so high? Both exhibitions come after a lengthy stream of brand “experiences” (as noted in a previous Zeitgeist article) that represent the latest luxury market strategy for driving revenue and footfall to retail spaces, in attempt to allay fears of a mass exodus of shoppers from the street to the website. However, Dior’s CEO, Christian Toledano reportedly told vogue.co.uk at the launch party of the event: “This isn’t a marketing tool… It’s a transmission of Couture”. But these are not mutually exclusive concepts; rather they are means to the same end, and arguably an education into the brand is simply the chosen method of marketing. Indeed, Hermès openly acknowledges the lucrative repercussions these luxury experiences have. An article in the FT cites that the event, in each city, draws around 30,000 visitors, which in turn increases footfall to brick and mortar stores. A twenty percent increase, to be precise, in the week following the festival in Seattle, Washington. In a far more low-key event than Dior, these are impressive figures, particularly given that no attempt at sales was made on the exhibition site. A bespoke, or even generic, selection of products on sale at the event would likely have been very popular.
Both events encouraged significant online chatter, though neither seems to have been particularly driven by the host brands. Dior at Harrods was littered with high impact branded totems, ripe for the social media picking, and as usual, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were filled with images and comments from the event, and now Vine, twitter’s 6-second video app, provided the ideal way to document the experiential nature of the event. It is interesting that Dior made no attempt at harnessing or leveraging the veritable mass of attention the event garnered. On investigation, I found only a limited amount of content around the event on Dior’s twitter feed and Facebook timeline. There was no official hashtag for the event and no evidence (that I could find) of any engagement with consumers who were talking about it. Hermès, though a far more low-key affair, “discreet to the point of invisible branding”, were no less well-represented in the social media space, but were almost equally poor at engineering and engaging with their online audience. The hashtag #festivaldesmetiers seems to have been widely adopted but it is completely unclear whether this was brand-driven, and Facebook interaction was limited to a single status update announcing the event. For brands that exert meticulous control over themselves in the physical space (something that was made patent in the exhibitions), it is strange that they are not attempting to implement this in the digital space, where barriers are borderless and the opportunity for damage is massive. This is a bold (perhaps naïve) move in the current climate, albeit that both events seem to have been highly successful.
It is somewhat ironic that Dior’s exhibition was held at Harrods – an obviously commercial venue, where special Dior products were available to buy – choosing to assert their mission as education rather than marketing. By contrast, Hermès chose an established art space to host their Festival des Metiers, albeit one that is often known for its consumer links, and have clearly acknowledged the potential of education as a means of marketing. Neither space is less appropriate then the other, but both are indicative of the kind of events hosted. Harrods, with its lavish window displays, reputation for luxury and labyrinthine layout, was apt for Dior’s fantastical and grandiose display, not to mention that it was intended to draw on the relationship between brand and department store. The Saatchi gallery’s minimal open space provided a neat backdrop for hosting “a rendez-vous with the Hermès craftspeople”, and apparently, sought to appeal to a younger demographic than perhaps the Hermès customer would ordinarily be. It is appropriate too, to present what can only be described as a fine art and craft, in an artistic space. It’s a notion that rival (and owner of Dior), LVMH, clearly thought worth cashing in on, since they have subsequently launched a similar initiative: the Journées Particulières, which this year will see it open 40 of its ateliers to the public for a weekend.
Both Dior and Hermès certainly made good attempts at getting people to engage physically (as well as virtually). The “So Dior” exhibition, and of course the café, were multi-sensorial. Beyond visual aesthetics, short films with headphones were provided, touch-sensitive technology was exploited and food inspired by Dior’s cookbook made for a wholly engrossing experience. Perfume was a key focus of the exhibition, explored from many different angles; not content with simply handing out the usual sticks of paper to smell, Dior and Harrods provided a telephone box (grey and white, in-keeping with brand décor, naturally) emitting one of Dior’s signature scents. Hermès was less immersive but more intimate; the possibility of viewing and interacting with those who create the product (and by extension the legacy), and even partaking in the sewing of scarves or ties, successfully created a feeling of exclusivity and privilege that the event no doubt strove for.
Toledano stated of the “So Dior” exhibition, “We need to explain why and how we do what we do. I want people to understand the passion, the innovation and our commitment to excellence.” In a similar vein, Guillaume de Seynes, great grandson of Emile Hermès explained: “We want to demonstrate that for us, craftsmanship is something that happens everyday.” Both brands sought to educate the consumer about themselves – Dior by making comment on the ideas and inspiration that produce the end product, and Hermès by demonstrating their commitment to the heritage of the brand by maintaining the quality of garments through skill of craftsmanship. Were they successful in their mission? Certainly; both provided real insight and inspiration. In doing so, Dior and Harrods, and Hermès’s Festival des Metiers, created an opportunity to become part of a legacy, and with this, the aspiration to turn something memorable into something wearable.
Zeitgeist has written before about the luxury goods company Yves Saint Laurent. Then-creative director Stefano Pilati opined, “[I]t’s such a contradiction, because we want to be luxurious and have 300 shops all around the world, but you can’t be luxurious with 300 shops around the world”. It’s always difficult to introduce dramatic innovation to a company that conversely prides itself on provenance and tradition. In trying to adhere to past methods, what starts out as a respectful outlook can lead to stagnation. It was evidently with this in mind that incoming designer for YSL, Hedi Slimane, has decided not only to personally redesign all retail environments – as he did at his last post at Dior Homme – but also to change the name of the brand itself, to Saint Laurent Paris.
It is not the first time a luxury label has grappled with a name change. “Gianni Versace” was similarly shortened some years ago to “Versace”; more recently Dolce & Gabbana’s more affordable “D&G” brand, announced it is to be shuttered due to consumer confusion over nomenclature. YSL’s name change is actually a return to tradition of course, as the brand used to be known as Saint Laurent Paris. This news was overlooked though on Twitter, where a lot of the knee-jerk reactions to the news were far from positive. The move will allow Slimane to stamp a real sense of authority on the brand, much as he did while at Dior, where many objective observers rightly claim he revolutionised contemporary menswear.
Most importantly though, the renaming should help move the brand away from the vestiges of any remaining cheap associations (evinced by the above person wearing a YSL polo shirt). In the 1980s, the company sold licenses to use its name to over 200 different companies, which led to poor-quality clothing being produced under the YSL marque, and a significant erosion of brand equity. A similar situation befell ’70s doyen Halston. Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent Paris has the opportunity to breathe new life into the company, while still maintaining a distinct sense of style that the eponymous designer would have been proud of.
Luxury group LVMH acquired what is to be a 17.1% stake in Hermès, it was announced at the weekend. Historically, the group has a tendency to purchase a minority stake before settling in for a full assault on the target acquisition. In order to leverage such a purchase, it is rumoured that LVMH is considering selling off the “MH” part, Moet and Hennessy, which Ogilvy client Diageo is understandably very keen for. Any rumours of takeover may just be that, of course.
But what of Hermès? Zeitgeist has paraphrased current IPA chairman Rory Sutherland before when he spoke of clothes today being about much more than mere “atoms”; these goods, especially in the realm of luxury, are sold on their intangible benefits, not on the assumption that they will merely keep you warm. Hermès, futhermore, really is a world unto itself, having been controlled by the Dumas family (offspring of Thierry Hermès) since its inception. The death of the brand’s patriach clearly left room for a potential hostile takeover.
LVMH must tred lightly however. One of the things that makes the Hermès brand so coveted by so many people around the world is that it is fiercely independent. Its heritage is bound up in the history of a single family, rather than a more homogenous consortium of initials. This family history has, without doubt, strong – though intangible – brand equity for its consumers, for obvious reasons. If it is to become subsumed into a phalanx of other brands however, the loss of this familial association might having a thoroughly tangible impact on the brand’s bottom line.
LV may have been around since 1854, but, as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last picture. Just as many an actor has been condemned to Hollywood purgatory through making one poor choice, so it is with a brand. A brand’s equity is made or broken by its perception, i.e. what it’s done lately. Ogilvy’s own Louis Vuitton has been in the press a lot recently, for reasons both good and bad. Zeitgeist takes a look at Vuitton’s goings on, and what impact the machinations will have on it’s brand.
The last Friday of May heralded the reopening of London’s New Bond St. Louis Vuitton boutique, with the new moniker of ‘Maison’, presumably denoting it as a flagship store. Never one to miss a way to include Facebook, Vuitton recorded the event in a live stream over the social network, beaming around the world images of the oh-so tiring Alexa Chung as she hosted the broadcast. The brand has done this previously to great success for it’s Ready-to-wear collections from various shows, which inspire great community interaction. Concurrent with this was the launch of a brand presence on Foursquare, one of the first of any brand to have an account on the location-based social network. (Indeed, this democratisation of fashion could be an article in of itself; Ermenegildo Zegna are taking a leaf from Vuitton’s book with unprecedented access to what goes on in the runup to a runway show). Photos of designer Marc Jacobs, Gwyneth Paltrow et al. graced the front pages of several of the city’s dailies the next morning. Diagnosis: Very good
At the opening, in a separate story that appeared with very little fanfare on the Vogue website, a brief interview was conducted with Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs, who said that when he began working on the brand, his initial thoughts might have taken it in a completely different direction, “When I arrived at Louis Vuitton 12 years ago, and I was figuring out how to create a new tier of Vuitton for a different customer, I thought it would be clever to hide that monogram, which was very stupid of me. That logo is part of what makes Vuitton so desirable. It allows people to become members of an aspirational club.” Zeitgeist has never heard Jacobs utter such an admission prior to this; it is surely an incredibly controversial thought. The problem is that the designer may have been quite right to have thought of removing the logo. Without it, they are almost certainly missing out on what he refers to as a “new tier”; the customer that loves the quality and craftmanship of Vuitton but does not need the validation of having “LV” emblazoned on every product, so instead chooses to shop at Bottega Veneta or somewhere similar. For how long can a brand remain aspirational when it begins to be seen everywhere, including in all the wrong types of places? Zeitgeist recently spotted two pieces of genuine Vuitton luggage sitting in the window of a McDonald’s. Diagnosis: Not good
Elsewhere in Vuitton’s world, the Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld three complaints on a series of advertisements that Ogilvy Paris had concocted, which had received positive press from the FT at its inception, and to which Zeitgeist has referred to previously. The ads, though beautifully photographed in an homage to that brilliant artist Vermeer, were withdrawn after complaints that the print ads gave the impression that the products were completely handmade from start to finish, and that at no point was machinery involved in the manufacturing process. In reality, this is not the case. Craftmanship by hand is indeed a significant part of the process, but the ASA deemed this insufficient. It is also unlikely that such young, beautiful people as depicted in the advertisements work in such immaculate clothing with only chiaroscuro lighting to work by, but there did not seem to be any complaints regarding these artistic licenses. Perhaps this is because such things should be taken with a pinch of salt, instead of at face value. Diagnosis: Not good
Louis Vuitton continues to contest in court in efforts to cut down on the re-selling of goods or the distribution of counterfeit products. The last victory came recently against eBay when the company was fined €200k in damages and €30k in legal costs made payable to Louis Vuitton. TelecomPaper reported “The court described as ‘parasitic’ eBay’s purchase of keywords such as ‘Wuittton’, ‘Viton’ and ‘Vitton’ so that online shoppers searching under these misspellings would be directed to links promoting eBay.” More recently, however, holding company LVMH lost it’s battle with Google over charges “that Google’s practice of selling keywords in advertising searches to the highest bidder damaged trademark law”, according to the BBC. Diagnosis: A tie
Lastly, having already made clear it’s association with a new part of the Journeys campaign – previously featuring such luminaries as Sean Connery, Keith Richards and Catherine Deneuve – that had Pelé, Zidane and Maradonna huddled around a table football game together, this week the company cemented the connection. Vogue recently reported that the World Cup would have an official home in a piece of luggage designed specifically for it by Vuitton. The luggage was revealed in Paris to great fanfare, by that [super]model of restraint, Naomi Campbell. Diagnosis: Very good
It’s been a period of mixed blessings for Louis Vuitton, some of which were completely out of their hands. It’s had some big wins with the new London store opening, as well as the excellent association it has created with the impending World Cup. Long-term, it will be fascinating to see if this is the beginning of a brand embracing to an increasing extent the entertainments and pastimes of the masses (prior to the World Cup, the only sport Vuitton had been involved in was the America’s Cup sailing race, crewed and supported by nought but multi-multi-millionaires), and how they will maintain an aspirational slant if they do so (presumably by continuing to charge £300+ for a shirt). Exciting times are ahead, no doubt…
Louis Vuitton, like everyone else, is keenly aware that the World Cup is approaching. Zeitgeist has a habit – recently pointed out by a colleague over lunch – of rarely making statements that would encompass what the whole of Zeitgeist would think about a certain subject; much like the Holy Trinity, though we are many, we are one. E pluribus, unum. In this instance, the worlds of Zeitgeist have collided together.
Ogilvy Paris started the “Journeys” campaign for Louis Vuitton in 2007, and since then, brand ambassadors like Gorbachev, Sean Connery and tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff have been featured. In it’s latest inception, three football phenoms – Maradona, Zidane and Pelé – are caught in an empty café playing table football together, while to the side sits monogrammed Vuitton luggage. In the spot below, Maradona introduces the clash of the titans between Zidane and Pelé. Vogue has more. To vote for who you think will win, click here. It’s a timely piece, one that fits nicely into the rest of the campaign, and the interactive feature is a nice touch. Could they have done more though? There’s nothing on Vuitton’s Twitter or YouTube accounts about these new ads yet.
The company’s holding group, LVMH, meanwhile, have launched a new website “that allows luxury brands to showcase high-quality branded film content against a more sophisticated design aesthetic and insider editorial voice that luxury-goods consumers have come to expect”. PSFK has more. If you’d like to do your own little bit for LVMH and tell them about your perceptions of luxury brands as well as your Twitter use, click here.
If you’re going to steal, it’s important “to steal with good judgment”, wrote the 19th century American humourist Josh Billings. In December of last year, the creative director for Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, shot a video called “Vol de Jour” that shows models Lara Stone and Baptiste Giabiconi making their way to every Chanel boutique in Paris, stealing the company’s wares along the way before making off on a Chanel motorcycle.
Yesterday, Vogue magazine reported that in the early hours of the morning, the boutique in South Kensington was broken into in a “smash and grab robbery” by two people before they sped off on mopeds. Perhaps the campaign was a little too inspirational?
A friend of the Zeitgeist team often contributed to articles for Men’s Vogue, until it went under not long ago. As Le Monde reported earlier this week, it is masculine publications which are particularly suffering in the downturn.
In general (as Zeitgeist has already noted), people are not willing to pay for content online, especially when they might be able to access the very same content elsewhere for free. The New York Times recently announced its decision to resurrect its paywall, originally put in place with pathetic results back in 1996. Will things be different now? Platforms like Apple’s iPad may play a key part. Variety has more.