The New Normal: Frequency, Diversity, Connectivity

For a while in February it seemed that news about brands launching expansive new, collaboration-friendly business models was arriving daily. The biggest headlines came from Moncler – historically a power-user of collaboration featured often in this report. Under its new Moncler Genius model, the luxury sports label is moving to a new schedule of monthly capsule collections created by a series of invited designers and labels – ranging from Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli to fragment’s Hiroshi Fujiwara.

The first eight months of the new programme was elaborately laid out at Milan Fashion Week, and its revealing dominated much of the fashion media throughout the month – providing much fuel for debate within the industry. Moncler’s president, Remo Ruffini, explained the company’s move towards a formalised system of diversification by saying “we want speak with our customers more often – every month, every week, every day, if necessary.”

By pure chance, similar programmes were announced by other Italian labels within days of the Moncler news: Tod’s announced the impending arrival of a new model called Tod’s Factory and Diesel also used a collaboration with designer Shayne Oliver to reveal a new programme for systematic experimentation called Diesel Red Tag.

Elsewhere, Shiseido instigated a model called Shiseido Cosmetic Press that will see the Japanese cosmetics giant taking a more ephemeral approach to brand management – launching smaller, conceptual brands to leverage specific trends. Its first, Japan-only range is called Ice Cream Parlour Cosmetics and has been designed to piggy-back on the trend of fashion adopting the style and flavour of food (see June edition).

Others to instigate similar programmes that thrive on frequency and diversity include H&M Group, whose new /Nyden concept store will be entirely based on affordable luxury and a revolving roster of externally recruited creative directors or “tribe leaders” – beginning with tattoo star Dr. Woo and actor Noomi Rapace. Throughout the whole of 2017, the adidas Consortium Sneaker Exchange platform was very successful at creating a more systematic and transparent calendar of collaborative design releases with an A-league of global sneaker boutiques. PUMA Select is another new programme that aims to make collaboration more systematic, but focuses on creation rather than co-branding by engaging with personalities closer to grassroots than the stellar names of fashion.

Much of the reporting on these recent moves has centred on the rush to appeal to millions of Gen Z consumers entering the workforce. Last October’s edition of Collaboration Generation dealt with young consumers and their refusal to conform to established paradigms – whether aesthetic or logistical. And while the main impetus for more systematic models of innovation comes from Gen Z’s looming purchasing power, it would be foolish to regard solutions like these as exclusive to the young or, indeed, to fashion.

Instead, what these programmes represent is a normalisation of frequent innovation as a tool of marketing and design. As true digital natives, young consumers provide the most visible target, but high connectivity is turning all of us into more adventurous and curious shoppers. Brands are finally realising the potential of digital tools to get themselves in front of consumers – and while many use them to do nothing more than announce sales and rehash old stories, others are realising the potential of digital to multiply the possibilities of catching consumers at their most impulsive.

Fast fashion was the solution for consumers who spend their time in malls. Moncler and Co. have no intention of copying fast fashion. Instead, they simply recognise that in the virtual infinity of the internet, consumers need stimulation and names they can count on to provide it.

 

In Focus: Lacoste Save Our Species

The best activation concept of 2018 may have arrived already, following last week’s launch of a collection from Lacoste dedicated to the endangered species programme of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Launched on the fringes of Paris Fashion Week, Lacoste’s campaign enjoyed significant global coverage and rapid sell-through. But the initiative’s success relied far more on its intelligent design than on the good-news story of a corporation embracing a cause.

In particular, two simple messaging devices transformed #LacosteSaveOurSpecies from being a well-meaning concept to a remarkable one – and provided the building blocks to becoming viral.

For marketers and designers, the fundamental attraction of any good collaboration is the ability to convey meaning at a glance – using visual and verbal information that appeals to consumers’ perceptions and gives them tiny puzzles to solve.

In Lacoste’s case, the visual hook comes from innovating its most familiar product – a plain white polo shirt – by replacing its iconic crocodile badge with the silhouettes of ten endangered species.

At a verbal level, Lacoste took the original step of aligning the quantity of shirts available with the total remaining population of each species: 67 Javan Rhinos, 157 Kakapos, 350 Sumatran Tigers, and so on.

By relying on these two key messages, the French label succeeded in lending gravitas to IUCN’s conservation mandate, while also playing on the market’s fetish for limited editions. Predictably, the edition’s 1,775 polo shirts sold out in under 24 hours, with even the most accessible styles appearing immediately at inflated prices on eBay.

While direct sales very likely covered the costs of Lacoste’s campaign, clearly its true value lies in its disproportionate contribution to the brand’s reach, affinity and perceptions of exclusivity.

Conventional agencies might argue that advertising, content or sponsorship platforms can generate similar returns, but few can do so with comparable precision or efficiency – especially in a world that increasingly values information about things to buy over things to know.

For me, Lacoste’s pièce de résistance lies in its success in not only elevating the goodwill in its brand, but also in reinforcing its savoir faire by using its own distinct style and voice to interpret current branding memes like sustainability, batch production and logo subversion.

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