Suit maker's ad effort gives apparel attitude

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Hartmarx Corp. will redefine "suitable attire" for the new economy in an expanded fall 2000 effort for its Hart Schaffner & Marx tailored clothing line.

The apparel company will aim at a younger crowd with humorous print ads and will target corporations struggling with more relaxed dress codes via a direct-mail effort. The campaign, created in-house, will break with an 18-page special advertising section in the October issue of Esquire and ads in The Wall Street Journal starting the week of Oct. 2. The tongue-in-cheek ads are a marked departure from previous efforts for the brand, said Jerry Marxhausen, senior VP.

`OLD AND TIRED'

"We were used to doing product shots and simply sticking our logo in the bottom of the page," he said. "It got old and tired." The ads, themed "Survival of the fittest," show vignettes of corporate life, such as a boring board meeting where an executive slumps with his cheek to a glass wall. "On those days when you're invited to a meeting of the bored, let Hart Schaffner & Marx ensure you look interesting, even if you're not interested," says the copy. The ads are tagged "Dress up or dress down, that's your business. Dress well, that's our business."

The 18-page advertorial will include guidelines for corporate dressing and tips for how to put clothes together to achieve an appropriate, fashionable look. Hart Schaffner plans to mail copies of the section to CEOs and human resources directors of Fortune 500 companies as part of a direct-mail campaign.

Casual Friday has created confusion in workplaces and cut into sales for manufacturers of men's tailored clothing since the concept took hold in the 1990s. According to figures from consultants NPD Group, sales of men's tailored apparel dropped 0.5% in 1999, despite a 4.1% increase in total men's wear sales to $56.5 billion. By contrast, sales of men's casual pants rose 11% and sweaters were up 10%.

"Casual Friday has become five days a week, if not six days a week in some offices," Mr. Marxhausen said. "We had to begin to look at how to position Hart Schaffner & Marx . . . We had to sell an attitude, not a product." The attitude is younger and more modern, targeting an audience of men who buy tailored clothing because they want to, not because office dress codes demand it, Mr. Marxhausen noted.

MORE CASUAL APPAREL

Hart Schaffner has reworked its product line over the last 18 months to include more casual apparel and suits with more fashion-forward design to appeal to younger customers. Mr. Marxhausen would not disclose spending for this effort, but said it is larger than the company's media budget for the last two years put together. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Hartmarx spent $3.3 million in U.S. media in 1999 and $2.8 million in 1998. Efforts will also include a co-op advertising program where Hart Schaffner will supply retailers with print and outdoor ads they can tag with their store name, as well as copies of the advertorial to use as point-of-purchase handouts or for direct mailings. Hart Schaffner may also break TV spots for fall 2001, but the final decision has not been made yet, Mr. Marxhausen said.

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