FOOTWEAR MARKETER CANDIE'S SEEKS SHOP FOR BRAND PROJECT: INMARKETING STAYS ON ROSTER AS AD SPENDING TO TRIPLE IN '99

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Candie's Inc., the footwear marketer known for its controversial advertising, is looking to add a second agency to its roster as it increases ad spending.

The company this month sent selected shops a "mission statement," giving them about two weeks to work on a branding project, according to one executive close to the process. Agency presentations are scheduled for next month, the executive added.

`IT'S NOT A REVIEW'

David Conn, Candie's director of marketing, confirmed the discussions with agencies but said incumbent InMarketing, New York, will remain on the roster if another agency is selected to work with the company.

"We're just examining all the resources out there to help us meet our advertising goals," Mr. Conn said. "It's not a review because our business is horrible; it's a review because our business is great."

In the past year, Candie's sales have more than doubled to $93 million, largely due to a makeover that began in the mid-1990s.

"We're a very marketing-driven company. We've got a CEO [Neil Cole] who really gets it when it comes to advertising and marketing," Mr. Conn said. "He sees it as an investment, not an expenditure."

AD SPENDING SURGES

The trendy footwear marketer, which spent $4 million in 1997, will triple ad spending to $12 million to $15 million next year, Mr. Conn said. Candie's, listed as one of the top 25 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. by Fortune, will also branch out into apparel and fragrances through its acquisition of Bongo Jeans and a licensing agreement with Liz Claiborne.

After a decade-long marketing dry spell and two ownership changes, Candie's made a dramatic effort to reinvigorate its brand image with an outlandish 1997 ad campaign featuring actress and comedian Jenny McCarthy.

SWEET SUCCESS, SOUR TASTE

That campaign resulted in sweet success for Candie's but left a sour taste with some publishers and consumers. One ad, which featured Ms. McCarthy perched on a toilet seat with her panties around her ankles, was rejected by magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue. A follow-up TV campaign, tagged "Just screw it," that debuted in February 1998 was rejected by MTV and network affiliates in several markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

"The company has grown as fast as it has because the advertising has succeeded," Mr. Conn said. "Advertising has certainly been a key part of our growth."

Candie's current ad effort, launched in August, continues to portray an offbeat brand image. Ads feature singers Brandy, Lisa Loeb, Shania Twain and L'il Kim in bizarre settings, such as singing to an audience of nuns.

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