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Chris Wood helps to launch top-end male fashion brand Dom Reilly

March 28, 2013

Dom ReillyFor years, you’ve run your own brand consultancy. After successfully selling it, you step into the limelight as chairman of the Central Office of Information, only to find that mad axeman and part-time cabinet minister Francis Maude is cutting off at the knees the very organisation you’ve just been invited to head. What next?

I caught up with Chris Wood recently and found out. It transpires he is helping to give lift-off to a new top-end fashion brand called Dom Reilly. Never heard of it? Well, unlike Chris Wood, you’ve probably had nothing to do with Formula One. Wood, in his spare time, is an unreconstructed petrol head; and Dominic Reilly (pictured) – the eponymous brand name –  is the former head of marketing at Williams F1 Team.

Reilly’s company, where Wood is a non-executive director and adviser, is ambitiously pitching itself at the very top of a very discriminating market – with a price-tag to match. The initial range, admittedly exquisitely hand-crafted, starts at £95 for a tooled leather phone case and escalates to an eye-watering £1,400 for a weekender bag (roughly the price of a Manolo Blahnik handbag or a Jimmy Choo tote).  This new brand has no intention of being a Mulberrry also-ran, no siree.

So why is Reilly so confident about his ambitious positioning? The answer lies not so much in the quality of the goods – that’s a given when competing with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Alfred Dunhill – but in a judicious soupçon of Formula One. A soupçon, because too much of it will asphyxiate the brand with the rank odour of “petrol-head” and “anorak” – in short, death by downmarket male. While there’s no escaping Dom Reilly’s essentially masculine appeal, the idea is to imbue the brand with FI’s sophisticated reputation for engineering excellence and technological innovation. One of the accessories, for instance, is a beautifully finished crash helmet case; and some of the collection features a special high-density foam used in F1 cockpits that absorbs almost all shock on impact.

Reilly, given his 6 years as head of marketing at Williams, has second-to-none access to one of the world’s most sophisticated R&D departments. But he has to be careful how he plays the Williams card. Few team brands, with the exception of Ferrari, have much charisma off-track. And in any case, Williams has not performed well of late (one, but only one, good reason, why the Williams name is not directly associated with the brand). Instead, an aura of cutting-edge R&D is being subtly diffused through the person of Patrick Head, co-founder of Williams F1 and its fabled chief of design – who just happens to be a founder shareholder in Dom Reilly.

Dom Reilly EnglandIn truth, the attractions of launching an haute gamme fashion brand are there for all to see: salivating margins and high resilience to recession. Equally, so is the demerit: everyone’s at it. The sector has become crowded with participants touting increasingly obscure and recondite “provenance”: the 17th century Huguenot diaspora, the Empress Josephine’s personal dressmaker etc (I made those up, but you know what I mean). So attaching your brand to future-directed technology with wide aspirational appeal is certainly a point of difference.

But that’s not to say fashion and high-octane auto culture are natural bedfellows, as the history of the Ferrari brand all too clearly illustrates. “It’s interesting,” says Wood, “That in the last Top Gear programme I watched, they were extolling the virtues (and innocence) of Pagani (750bhp hypercars, costing three times as much as a Lamborghini and correspondingly rare), while referring to the Maranello mob (i.e. Ferrari) as ‘purveyors of key rings and baseball caps’. And about Lamborghini as a contrivance of Audi. Out of the mouths of children, and even Clarkson, can come a certain wisdom.”

Indeed.

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Richard Pinder launches global network with Maserati as a client

March 26, 2013

Richard PinderAfter years of being a jet-setting senior suit in someone else’s service, Richard Pinder has decided to go global on his own account with the ambitious launch of international network The House Worldwide.

Pinder, it will be recalled, was head of Publicis Worldwide for five years until group succession politics (the imposition of Jean-Yves Naouri as executive chairman) made further tenure of his position unrealistic.

That was two years ago. Since then, Pinder has been pondering how to cash in on his experience with global clients (he’s worked for over 25 years in Asia, Europe and the USA; for Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey, as well as Publicis) by building a new-model worldwide agency network.

No mean cliché, the cynic will object. We’ve heard the rhetoric before. What’s the reality?

It’s true that the agency world has long been struggling with a “post-analogue” structural solution to the increasingly financially unviable traditional creative agency network, with its army of regional bureaucracies. Some have proffered a solution in the form of the fleeter-footed international micro-network (step forward BBH, Wieden & Kennedy and – in its heyday – StrawberryFrog.

Pinder, however, has gone a step further in presenting a top-down managerial solution – or perhaps that should be management consultancy solution – in place of the piecemeal creative one. His starting point is that the traditional global advertising business – unlike professional counterparts such as lawyers and accountants – loses most of its senior talent to the management of regional geographic fiefdoms, which are there primarily because of historical legacy. What this talent should be doing is servicing the client’s agenda rather than their own corporate one. The exception, where the client really can insist on top-level personal service, is a vanishingly small number of mega-clients, such as Ford and Procter & Gamble, which have specially structured teams to pander to their requirements.

Pinder’s idea is to provide this level of service for global, or at least international, clients further down the budgetary league table. Each client should be serviced by no less than three senior people at any one time. To do this, he has joined forces with a core team of like-minded senior executives: initially, Peter Rawlings, former chief operating officer DDB Asia, Chris Chard, former chief strategy officer of Lowe Worldwide in New York and Ben Stobart, former senior vice-president (chief suit) of Burnett Chicago. These will deal directly with top clients on a day-to-day basis; the specialist skills base, on the other hand, is to be provided by a network of over a dozen associated network companies, of which the best known is Naked Communications (see AdWeek for a full list).

Note the absence of an overall chief creative officer. This is deliberate: Pinder does not believe a single individual can adequately address the creative needs of all client types.

Why is Pinder convinced this model can operate from a single fixed geographical location (well, actually two in THW’s case – London and Singapore)?  Because of consolidation on the brand management side. More and more marketing power is being concentrated into the hands of Chief marketing officers and indeed chief executives; less and less being delegated to regional and country power bases.

But, the acid test is: has Pinder got any clients? Yes he has. He has been collaborating with two over the past year in honing the organisational structure of THW, during what he calls “beta mode” (how digitally au courant).

And they are? Maserati and an upmarket specialist haircare brand, GHD (stands for “Good Hair Day”). Both, he tells me, are poised at an interesting fulcrum of development, from the brand and new product point of view.

Maserati, an ultra luxury sports car marque lodged in the Chrysler/Fiat stable, has been given a €1.6bn injection to broaden its model range and take on Porsche.

GHD – which produces premium-priced hair stylers – is also cash-rich after being bought for £300m by Lion Capital. Lion is investing in npd, with a view to bringing GHD out of the salon and onto the international stage. Inevitably, that is going to involve careful brand positioning as GHD moves into a broader market segment.

However, Pinder is coy on the subject of who, apart from Maserati and GHD, is bankrolling all of this. It seems likely that both principal founders (Pinder and Rawlings) have skin in the game. But a project of this scope is financially beyond most individual investors, even if they are relatively wealthy admen. Private equity seems to the answer. Among the list of network associates is, rather intriguingly, a UK-based hedge fund called Toscafund, whose chairman is former RBS bigwig Sir George Mathewson. Pinder claims Toscafund is very handy on the “analytics” side. No doubt. But my guess is it’s providing a lot more resource than that.


Brands put the “r” into bands

January 31, 2013

imagesLeonardo da Vinci was dependent on the Duke of Milan, Cesare Borgia and the King of France; Wolfgang Mozart, the Archbishop of Salzburg – while the aristocratic Esterhazys supported Joseph Haydn. Throughout the ages, artists have had a necessary, if problematic, relationship with patrons. Or, as they are now known, sponsors.

These days, the rich and the powerful bestowers of largesse are brands; one thing that hasn’t changed is the contentious issue of artistic integrity. How far should talent go in prostituting itself in order to earn a crust? Some would say the New Seekers, who re-recorded Coca-Cola’s immortal “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial as a chart-busting single back in 1971, crossed the line in genuflecting to Mammon, however “altruistic” the message.

But whatever The New Seekers may, or may not, have done is a moon-cast shadow compared with today’s flexi-ethics. With record labels going down the tube, and online piracy rampant, how is the gig going to make money? The answer for many (should they be so lucky) is to insert an “r” into band. Brands have not been slow to exploit this opportunity. Nike, the arch ambush-brand, may not “own” the rapper Drake, but it certainly makes sure he’s well supplied with every imaginable item of swooshed kit. Likewise Martell has picked up on the “gnac” in hip-hop culture and uses music as a means of penetrating the African-American market, where (exceptionally) brandy is on an upward consumption curve.

My old chum Peter Krijgsman has, slightly cynically, gone one step further in “cutting out the middleman” and making an explicit appeal for product placement in his latest (and possibly only, he tells me) album, Digital Age Blues. Of particular interest is this little C&W number “Sponsor Me”, containing such catchy lyrics as:

“Don’t think of me as a humble song, but as an opportunitee, Yes sir. You’ll get a big bag of crochets for a very modest fee, you’ll grow like a pig from Idaho when you sponsor me.”

I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek this “offering” is from Peter, whom some may better remember as a comms director at BarCap and ING. But it can’t be denied it is slick.  The band is Krijgsman and Sid Stronach. Helen Knight and Claire Macauley are the backing singers. And here it is in full: Sponsor_Me.


Nike neatly sidesteps Olympics brand sponsorship rules with Paula Radcliffe ad

August 1, 2012

Here’s Nike cocking another snook at those pesky International Olympics Committee and Locog rules on sponsorship:

Had Paula Radcliffe not been injured, Nike – unlike arch-rival Adidas not an official sponsor of the Games – would have been prohibited from running this ad, featuring one of Team GB’s athletes.

Nike hints there may be more ads featuring British athletes if the opportunity arises.

During the games, athletes can only promote official Olympic sponsors, meaning they are banned from endorsing even their own.

Still more surreptitiously, Dr Dre – the rapper and music entrepreneur – has succeeded in skirting the rules with an ambush marketing campaign that persuaded British athlete Laura Robson to endorse his Beats headphones range.

Dr Dre sent Team GB members special versions of the Beats range branded with union flag colours.

Tennis player Laura Robson tweeted about receiving her headphones, although the post was subsequently removed from her Twitter account. Goalkeeper Jack Butland also responded to the gift, tweeting: “Love my GB Beats by Dre.”

For those not in the know, Beats headphones are near universally available at the Aquatics Centre. Swimmers including Michael Phelps use them to block out background noise before races.

IOC guidance published before the Olympics states that athletes are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any website. This particular stunt is a smack in the eye for Panasonic, which is an official sponsor.

Nike’s and Dr Dre’s ambush marketing comes shortly after US athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, roundly condemned Rule 40 of the IOC code of conduct, which forbids athletes from mentioning their personal sponsors on social media during the games.

Last Friday, legal advisers to Locog decided not to take action against a global ad campaign by Nike that featured everyday athletes competing in places around the world named London.

Lastly, ambush marketing, how not to do it. An object lesson from PepsiCo. This in-game ad for Mountain Dew Energy drink seen on various gaming-apps, a video sharing and a social media website, features what appears to be a teenager on a snowboard doing unrecommended things on the Underground. Catchline: “Don’t Dew this at home.” Not entirely surprisingly, the ad – devised by Impact BBDO – has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, on the grounds that it is completely irresponsible. Just getting into the Olympic spirit, eh, Pepsi?


Is this man wearing a Burberry?

June 11, 2012

Here’s this week’s brand identification test. Study carefully the following image of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman taken from a scene in the classic movie Casablanca.

Now answer the following multiple-choice question. Is Bogie’s trench-coat:

a) A Burberry?

b) An Aquascutum?

c) Neither of these?

If a), Burberry could be in serious trouble. And certainly the Bogart estate, represented by 63-year-old son of the actor, Stephen Bogart, thinks it should be. So much so that the estate is suing Burberry over trademark infringement (that’s Bogie’s trademark, not the trench-coat’s) after the London fashion house allegedly purloined an image of the actor wearing the coat for a Facebook page.

According to Bogart Jnr, the image is there purely and simply to promote Burberry sales – and shows a marked “disrespect” for the family’s legal rights.

Not so, says Burberry. It has riposted with a counter-suit alleging the picture of ‘Bogie’ was a historical reference in a timeline, and protected under America’s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Lawyer Michael Crain, representing the Bogart estate, reckons his client’s case case is historic because it tackles the issue of identity theft in social media. But that will only be so if Burberry fails to establish that its purpose in using the image was educational, and therefore not commercial.

A more nagging question for brand buffs – and perhaps for Burberry itself – is whether Bogie’s coat, which makes its appearance in the closing scenes of the 1942 movie classic, is actually a Burberry.

Young Stephen raises the tantalising prospect that it is not. “It is well known,” he tells us cryptically, “that my father was a loyal Aquascutum customer in his personal life.”

So, perhaps Aquascutum should get in on the legal gravy-train as well. Who knows? It could end up costing Burberry millions of dollars.


Why Victoria’s Dirty Secret is giving Fairtrade a bad name

December 17, 2011

Burkina Faso? No, wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue – know that name, it’s been in the news hasn’t it? – Tunisian singer or something …

Wrong. It’s a small, landlocked country, dirt-poor, situated in the upper-Volta region of West Africa. And the only reason it has been in the news recently is because it is giving global lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret a bad name. By implication, it has also managed to raise profound questions about the wisdom of the Fairtrade concept.

How so? A recent exposé by Bloomberg’s Cam Simpson has revealed that Victoria’s Secret sources its cotton from plantations where child-workers, some as young as 6, are subjected to serial abuse, including routine physical beatings.

Still worse for the glossy lingerie company that has up-and-coming supermodels such as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Candice Swanepoel clamouring to be on its books: Victoria’s Secret has in the recent past been actively boasting about its do-gooding activity in Burkina Naso. In 2008 it launched a lingerie line that made specific mention of the fairtrade deal: “Good for women. Good for the children who depend on them.”

Here’s the glossy brand surface:

And here’s the grimmer underlying reality.

In fairness to Limited Brands, the company that owns VS, it seems to have been conned along with everyone else. Its fairtrade programme was brokered in good faith with the National Federation of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso and arguably it has managed to produce a few tangible improvements for a labour force used to working for $1 a day, such as new school books and artesian wells.

But that’s not really the salient point of this story. The Victoria’s Secret scandal is one of a number gradually unravelling the skein of public goodwill towards the Fairtrade concept. Nike has never quite recovered from an exposé over 10 years ago of it use of sweatshop child labour overseas. More recently major retailers such as Macy’s and Costco have been accused of knowingly using “dirty gold” for their jewellery.

At very least these stories reveal a woeful lack of micro-management on the part of companies signing up to Fairtrade pacts; at worst, outright cynicism. Either way, the public is getting tired of the excuses. This reaction from Tom Mackendrick at RAPP rather sums the situation up:

It has become increasingly difficult to purchase anything and know how it was made, who was involved and if anyone was exploited. I suggest that buying American, although difficult, is one way a consumer can usually be sure of fair working conditions. Until then, consumers will continue to research and expose. Brands need to “live in the culture” and understand that they are culpable for their actions…especially in their striving for cheap labor and products.

Quite so. No member of the public wishes to feel that he or she is an unwitting accomplice of neo-colonial exploitation. On the other hand, buying American, or British for that matter, is not the solution. Yes, there might be a trade-off between higher prices and a cleaner conscience. On the other hand, shutting our eyes to “Third World” poverty is not going to make it go away. Fairtrade, as a principle, is admirable: what’s letting it down is the practice. In reality it’s very difficult to be “fair” in $1-a-day countries where simply staying alive is an unceasing struggle. Ought ‘doing good’ be limited to safe, bland and frankly unmemorable corporate CSR initiatives? Or should it involve something altogether more ambitious – taking risks, getting your hands dirty from time to time and paying the inevitable penalty for trying harder? It’s a poser.


Nation shocked to its marrow by sexy Marks & Spencer lingerie ad

November 30, 2011

Warning to all advertisers: the merest suggestion of female carnality in a public place will now be punished by a rap over the knuckles from the Advertising Standards Authority.

The regulator has holed a second high-profile brand below the waterline. Last week it was Unilever’s Lynx. This week it is – wait for it – Marks & Spencer.

M&S corrupting our youth? That bastion of frumpy, middle-class, Daily Mail-reading Middle England? Whatever is the world coming to? Next, they’ll be banning mince pies.

And yet, there it is in black and white, in the ASA’s official rescript: M&S is “socially irresponsible” because it has plied us with a “sexually overt” ad.

The ad in question is one of two which ran on bus-sides during September, featuring models sporting M&S’ most gossamer lingerie – and little else. To forestall complaints about gratuitous sexiness (unsuccessfully as it turned out), M&S decided to gloss the posters with a “filmic” finish – ie, it blurred them slightly. The ASA conceded that the context was relevant to the sector (how else do you display lingerie on a poster – on a washing line?). It also acknowledged that M&S had taken considerable care not to make the models’ poses too provocative. But it drew the line at one particular execution:

We considered that the pose of the woman kneeling on the bed was overtly sexual, as her legs were wide apart, her back arched and one arm above her head with the other touching her thigh. We also noted that the woman in this image wore stockings.

Shocking, a glimpse of stocking. You have been warned.

Mind you, it’s probably time someone brought M&S to book over its increasingly licentious conduct. Not a Christmas seems to go by these days without saturation scheduling of M&S’ most sexy models parading their underwear on our television screens.

If only M&S spent a little less money on its models and a little more on tarting up its far from glamorous interiors, perhaps we would all have less to complain about.


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