Tinseltown's oldest agency, William Morris, has signed the music and fashion event Fashion Rocks for the Prince's Trust, and it plans to turn the event into a global charity franchise as well as a worldwide platform for brands seeking to penetrate emerging markets such as India and China.
Formed in 2003, Fashion Rocks pairs top fashion labels with internationally famous music artists performing to aid The Prince's Trust, a U.K. charitable organization that provides funding to support disadvantaged youth in Britain, Scotland and Wales. Last year's Fashion Rocks at Royal Albert Hall featured top musical acts such as Timbaland, Beyoncé, Robbie Williams and Mariah Carey performing on a catwalk amidst runway models sporting fashions from Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Versace.
Need to embrace local charities
But going forward, William Morris Consulting's London-based VP David Taghioff explained that Fashion Rocks' new owners, Melville Capital, "realized that for the brand to have real cache outside of the U.K., you have to embrace local charities -- not least because the celebrity community wants to lend a helping hand to a community that they're performing in. It's about giving back."
So while this year's Fashion Rocks at Royal Albert Hall on Oct. 16 will still benefit the Prince's Trust, Fashion Rocks will also expand to include Mumbai, India's largest city, in 2009. Less than 15% of the millions of HIV-positive Indians who need antiretroviral therapy receive it, and so to make Fashion Rocks relevant to Mumbai audiences, the international AIDS foundation AmFar will be the beneficiary. Similar strategies will be used for Moscow in late 2009, and Shanghai or Beijing in 2010.
Fashion Rocks global/local focus comes at a chaotic but propitious time for international brands: While the U.S.'s credit spasm is bad news for the domestic economy, a weakening dollar has made American goods even more accessible to foreign consumers. But regardless of the fluctuations of currency markets, emerging markets targeted by Fashion Rocks will likely have intrinsic appeal to global brands. Taghioff said that "a lot of companies that market globally -- like handset makers and financial houses -- are most interested in emerging markets."
Growing middle class market
That's because they're desperate to tap into suddenly developing middle classes, the growing populations that may never have had even a landline telephone or bank account, but are suddenly in the market for a cellphone or mutual fund. Only about 6% of India's population can really be called "middle class," but that's rapidly changing, and the stakes are high. A 2007 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that if current growth rates continue, India's middle class alone will swell to more than 10 times its size over the next two decades, from 50 million to 583 million.
Local entertainment marketing is an intriguing way to reach those consumers whose options are exploding, but who still crave brands that understand and respect their culture. For example, Kellogg's rollout of Corn Flakes flopped in India, because, culturally, Indians consider a cold meal to be a shock to the system early in the morning. Likewise, Yum Brands' Pizza Hut famously languished in India until 2006, when it adapted its regular toppings to the local palate and introduced the Tandoori Pizza.
The lessons Kellogg and Pizza Hut learned need to be applied to branded entertainment, too. While Scottish investment fund Melville Capital also owns London-based fashion labels such as Gio-Goi and Simon, its success with Fashion Rocks abroad will hinge on the ability to find a balance between pushing global icons and artists while simultaneously showcasing local brands and talent -- whether they be goods and services, fashion designers or music icons.
Local and international focus
As such, William Morris will be working with London-based agency Branded Entertainment to broker broadcast agreements and create strategic digital partnerships for the Indian and Asian events, but also will be seeking corporate sponsorships and securing talent for them with both an international and a local focus.
Said William Morris consultant Suchir Batra: "It's not about just pushing global brands, it's about embracing the local pop culture with a mix of local, indigenous designers and musicians."