Tommy Hilfiger Takes Branding on the Road With Bravo Special

Q&A: You Can't 'Just Survive Doing Advertising'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Get ready for a redesigned Tommy Hilfiger.

The once omnipresent all-American designer, who sold his company for $1.6 billion to investment firm Apax Partners in 2006, has kept a relatively low marketing profile in recent years, with a scaled-down retail presence and a more modest media budget (Tommy Hilfiger Corp. spent $23 million on measured media in 2007 vs. $37.3 million in 2004, his highest spending in the last five years). But now Mr. Hilfiger is looking to branded entertainment as an efficient way to extend his brand and still break some ground in the increasingly competitive fashion category.
Fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger and ad icon George Lois co-authored a book on, well, icons.
Fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger and ad icon George Lois co-authored a book on, well, icons.

A key part of the company's new media strategy kicked off in April with the launch of TommyTV, a branded website that serves as a hub for exclusive performance and behind-the-scenes footage from the Hilfiger Sessions, a concert series sponsored by Tommy. Now Mr. Hilfiger is taking on the role of TV producer with "Tommy Hilfiger Presents: Ironic Iconic America," a one-hour special for Bravo based on "Iconic America: A Roller-Coaster Ride Through the Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture," a book he co-authored with ad legend George Lois.

"Ironic Iconic America" is a traveling road-show that tours different locales and icons in American pop culture, "from Andy Warhol to Barbie," as its press release announces. Mr. Hilfiger had a hands-on role in developing "Ironic Iconic" with Bravo and Radical Media, his co-producers, to make sure the special kept with the essence of the Tommy Hilfiger brand.

"We wanted to make sure it wasn't just anyone's view of America, but that it would be, throughout the tone, storyline and elements, representative of Tommy's unique view of America," said Avery Baker, Tommy Hilfiger's exec VP-global marketing communications.

Bob Friedman, Radical Media's president of entertainment of marketing, said the show will get a heavy in-store push at many of Tommy's retail locations. "It's a way to cerate entertainment at retail, by creating multiple uses for this content. We don't think of it as a one-hour special or a backdoor pilot. It's content that can be reformulated to work in a variety of media."

As for Mr. Hilfiger himself, he views his new forays into branded entertainment as a move away from his celeb-focused ad campaigns of yore, which have highlighted everyone from David Bowie to Britney Spears to the Rolling Stones. Madison & Vine recently spoke with the designer to learn more about his newly humble approach to marketing.

M&V: "Ironic Iconic America" marks a rare foray into television production for you. How does the show fit into your overall Tommy Hilfiger brand strategy?

Mr. Hilfiger: It isn't a branding for Tommy Hilfiger. What it is is a Tommy Hilfiger-produced show that is very unique in that there's nothing else like it out there. So whatever we do, we like to create uniqueness and almost break the mold.

M&V: In addition to the show and the book, you've also recently launched Tommy TV, a branded website for music content and live concerts. With all these forays into branded content, does this mean you're moving away from the 30-second spot as the best way to reach your target consumer?

Mr. Hilfiger: I still think [TV spots] are the most traditionally efficient ways to reach the consumer. Those are platforms, and those platforms are built to reach consumers, and to reach them with sort of a different point of view. But I believe that media, in many different ways, reaches the consumer as long as it's unique. I think when it becomes too familiar or too much of the same, it becomes very boring. I think what I've learned over the years [is] if you're going to do something from a marketing angle, uniqueness attracts the eyeball. And a different point of view helps you build and create a niche.

M&V: What kind of success metrics are you attaching to the show? What will make it a hit to you?

Mr. Hilfiger: I think it will more or less validate our brand as being a true all-American iconic brand, and that in and of itself to me is priceless, especially playing in the global market today. As a result of playing in the global market, our business has increased dramatically. Two-thirds of our total volume in revenue is from outside the U.S. That comes as the result of positioning properly overseas early on in our development. We positioned ourselves as an upscale brand -- we made sure we were on all the best shopping streets, went shoulder to shoulder with all the top brands, and we're looked upon and known as the American brand.

M&V: Recently you've steered away from using celebrities to anchor your campaigns. What prompted that move?

Mr. Hilfiger: We say that when the competition zigs, we want to zag. Before people were using celebrities in advertising, we were doing it. Before people were using music stars in their advertising, we were doing it. We connected our brands to music from the very beginning, when we were dressing all sorts of music stars, all sorts of tours, being more or less connected with music sort of as the entertainment vehicle. We felt if David Bowie was pictured wearing our clothes, David Bowie's fans would want to wear the clothes. Britney Spears was featured in our ads when she was just coming out, and we figured if her fans liked the way the jeans looked, they would buy the jeans. And that also happened.

We also wanted to create a multiracial advertising message, where we used a real mix of young people in the advertising. This was before a lot of designers would even think of using an African-American, a Hispanic or an Asian in their advertising. We were also not making them up with hairspray and makeup so they would be perfect looking. We thought it was really important we make them look real. We photographed them outdoors, in natural sunlight, as relaxed as we wanted to be. There was a reality behind it. Before there was reality TV, this was reality advertising.

M&V: So if not celebrity, what is the next marketing tactic you'll be using to connect with your target consumer?

Mr. Hilfiger: Let's put it this way: It's uniqueness, but it is a blend, a package or a basket of different ideas. I don't think you can just survive by [putting] beautiful pictures in magazines. I don't think you can just survive doing advertising. I think you have to reach this customer through a number of different ways, a number of different channels, with the internet being one of the most important ways, to television, to outdoor, to radio. It has to be sort of a multimedia octopus approach. We have been doing it, and every season we tweak it a bit. We never fail to reach a consumer who may have missed it the season before.
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