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When, a few years back, Hugo Boss hired a very talented group of Brits, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, as worldwide agency of record for all creative, Madison Avenue applauded. Fashion advertisers were coming to their senses.

Generally speaking, Bartle's campaign ("Men at work") was highly regarded, at least by this adman. After a little more than a year, it was all over. Fired!

The difference between advertising agencies and fashion designers is in the way advertising agencies begin the process.

Good advertising people are idea-driven. They start the creative process with an idea based on strategies designed to differentiate their clients' products in a competitive way.

They use research. They talk to consumers. (Designers talk to store buyers and other designers.) They strive to find a place in which they can base a long term idea to accomplish their marketing mission.


Although fashion must appeal to the emotions, and a strategy and an idea can seem to be cerebral, the execution of a strategy can be just as emotional as a fashion ad. The end result, however, is that the consumer will take away something more lasting when the advertising is based on an idea, not just a picture of a product.

Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Gucci, Armani and many others all prefer to do it themselves. They don't use advertising agencies.

Regardless of how their in-house ad departments are configured (Calvin's has, I believe, more than 35 on staff), they invariably are led by the designers themselves. There is also an art director (most work as free-lancers) and, of course, world-renowned fashion photographers, such as Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts and Patrick Demarchelier.

Many of these art directors are extremely talented designers: Fabien Baron, Sam Shahid, etc. Baron designed the cK logo and is the creative director for Liz Tilberis' beautiful magazine, Harper's Bazaar.


Although often titled as ad agencies, they really are designers, graphic designers who know the culture of fashion photography, models, stylists, locations and the type faces that drive their work. They have no real strategic training or interests in producing anything except a great photograph and designing a logo.

They usually don't produce anything themselves. They employ outsourced suppliers to produce the "shoot," search for locations, choose a studio, find the stylist, locate the props, get a make-up artist and even hire the caterer without whom, of course, no shoot could happen.

The result is highly formulaic advertising: photographs of great models, wearing great clothes, from world-class fashion photographers, and a logo.

This is in no way meant to demean this effort. By and large, these talents are the world's best at what they do. They use supermodels such as Linda Evangelista, Niki Taylor, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss and many more. They create the images that maximize the perceived value of their fashion clients because they increase their cachet to consumers. They make great pictures. But it ends there.

According to Michael E. Porter, my personal favorite guru at Harvard University, in a recent article in Harvard Business Review, strategy is destiny. He defines competitive strategy as "differences that can be preserved over time. Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value."

Positioning strategy can never be based on a photograph of a style because style keeps changing. All that a photograph of a piece of merchandise can do is illustrate the designer's view of what is current.


Most clothing shown in fashion advertising can't even be found in the stores and, if it can, then not in your size. Most probably nine out of 10 who see it would never wear it, anyway.

A piece of merchandise is not a strategy. It is not the essence of the designer's ideology. It is merely an example of the designer's current interpretation of fashion.

Nike, for example, shows great photographs of its shoes and swoosh logo in ads. Many times the ads do not even use its logo. Since they are so clearly Nike's, they need not do so.

However, Nike also has an idea about who it is, what it says ("Just do it") and what it stands for (difference). Its ads are all idea-focused. The consistency of its message (in a thousand iterations, showing hundreds of different shoe styles, using dozens of different photographers, in a multitude of locations) delivers its competitive strategy: "We make serious, performance-driven footwear for people who want to test themselves."


I believe its strategy is what made Nike the huge success it is. They are still showing shoes in a highly fashionable way, but what the consumer takes out of the advertising is always much more than just the shoes themselves. It's an idea about Nike.

Advertising agencies and designers do not speak the same language and are immediately off-putting to each other. Designers and their art directors talk about the mood of an ad, the sexiness in a picture, the intrigue it communicates. They view this as a strategy, while adpeople see it as only an executional tool and strive to deliver an idea.

I am hopeful fashion advertisers (designers) will soon come to realize that the "picture/logo" notion in their advertising is ubiquitous and non-differentiating and recognize the importance of strategy from which positioning ideas can emerge. The whole picture and logo thing will eventually wear itself out, and I believe talented fashion designers will start to focus on strategy for executional inspiration. You need only look back to earlier fashion advertising: "I dreamed I went dancing in my Maidenform bra", or "The Hathaway man" and his eyepatch.


What we need to do is get agencies to better understand the subtleties of a fashion photograph, the value of great accessories, the choice of the model and her make-up, and merge it with big ideas based on strategies that differentiate the advertiser. Then 7th Avenue may be able to hear Madison Avenue, and vice versa.

To prove my point, look at these recent examples of ads based on the fashion photograph/logo school of advertising and see if you can match the brand with the picture. If you cannot, 100% of the time, someone is wasting their money.

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