Tag Archives: Barbara Lippert

How to save luxury brands (and American capitalism)

screen-shot-2016-09-15-11-10-57-amElizabeth Segran has a nice essay in Fast Company: The Decline Of Premium American Fashion Brands. What Happened, Ralph And Tommy?

As a teen, Segran admired ads by Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. That’s over.

Today, at 33, none of these brands interest me. They conjure up images of outlet malls.

The problem is widespread

I’m not the only one who feels that these iconic American brands have lost their luster. Many are on a downward spiral, hit by sluggish sales. Ralph Lauren is facing plunging profits resulting in the shuttering of retail stores. Coach is in a similar boat, having lost significant market share. Michael Kors recently devised a strategy of cutting back on discounts, since markdowns appear to have killed the company’s cachet. Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, which are owned by the same parent company, have seen decreasing sales in the U.S. market.

Luxury brands are, in short, a mess.

Segran consults several experts and they roll out the probable causes:

Luxury brands:

■ were pushed by Wall Street to grow
■ growth forced offshore manufacture and this created diminished quality
■ searching for larger markets lead to production overruns
■ overruns forced brands into the bargain and outlet channels.
■ finding Ralph Lauren in a discount bin at T.J. Maxx made it seem a little less luxurious

Other factors

■ new brands rose with a new, more social, sensibility, Everlane or Warby Parker

But something is missing here from this account. We are looking at a fundamental change in sensibility.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-11-10-57-amConsider the Ralph Lauren ad that Fast Company used to illustrate this essay.

Almost everything is now wrong with this image. But not one of these errors in the image is remarked upon.

Errors in the image: 

That this picture has a center to it.
(Younger consumers are social animals. They are networked creatures. They are distributed souls. Practically, for content creators, that means dump the “focus” and go for “foci.” See recent work by Fitbit and Android for the social “foci” view, and my thoughts here.)

That the center of the picture is a white male, apparently WASP and privileged.
(Do I really need to explain the rise of diversity and what it means to the models we want to see in our ads?)

That the male in question has a woman wrapped around his arm.
(This too should be unnecessary, but everyone is now a feminist. And this posture is absurdly subordinate and subordinating.)

That this woman has the strangest look on her face.
(It’s an expressive that appears to say, “This is all I want from life, to be by my man.” I mean, really.)

That there is a steely eyed friend.
(what is this guy dressed for? A trip to his place in the country, the ancestral home, all brick, beam and ‘old money made material’?)

That the surrounding group glows with youth, ethnic specificity, and privilege
(the first motive for luxury consumption used to be upward aspiration. A consumer culture fanned the hope that we too could rise in the world, into exalted social realms, away from the ordinary, “common,” “coarse,” “little” people. But this idea is now openly ridiculed.)

Attention, sellers! The single most important idea driving your market place is dying. This idea of status is dying. It is now a recipe for ridicule.

So let’s be clear. Yes, there are plenty of “internal” reasons why luxury brands are struggling. And thank you, Elizabeth, for discovering them. But there are external, cultural ones, as well.

These cultural changes are not recent. These have been in the works for several decades. And it is a perfect storm as we rethink our ideas of privilege, status admiration, upward aspiration, sexism, and the adoration of the wealth and privilege.

imagesWhat to do? How could luxury brands have prepared themselves for this cultural disruption? At the risk of repeating myself, the single simplest strategy is to hire a Chief Culture Officer. For instructions, read this book ➼.

There’s a ton of talent out there. A few names come to mind. Tom LaForge, Barbara Lippert, Steffon Davis, Ana Domb, Philip McKenzie, Sam Ford, Joyce King Thomas, Michael Brooks, Jamie Gordon, Monica Ruffo, Rochelle Grayson, Kate Hammer, Drew Smith, Rob Fields, Parmesh Shashani, Shara Karasic, Ujwal Arkalgud, Tracey Follows, Eric Nehrlich, Bud Caddell, Barb Stark, Mark Boles, Mark Miller, Helen Walters.

(For a longer list, see this Pinterest page filled with candidates.}

If only Ralph Lauren had had anyone noted above as their Chief Culture Officer. How much share holder value would have been protected? How many careers saved? How much more fun would it have been to work at Ralph Lauren?

American capitalism has become a bit of a punching bag. There are so many cultural disruptions in play. A crisis now haunts CPG and Hollywood. So that’s three of the great workhorses of the American economy. And it’s at this point when we can see a crisis running right through our economy, touching things as diverse as luxury brands, CPG brands and Hollywood pictures, that’s it is time to rethink what we’re doing.

Take a smart person with good credentials, give them resources and give them power. It’s time to make our marketing, design thinking, branding, and innovation intelligence responsive to the simple truth that’s visible to most cultural creatives and virtually every Millennial. It’s time to make the organization as responsive to culture as it is to everything else in the near environment. All other options are stupid and embarrassing.

 

Is Barbara Lippert old enough?

My world rocked recently when it was revealed that Barbara Lippert was leaving Adweek for Goodby, Silverstein where she has been made "curator of pop culture."  

Yes, of course, I would have preferred that she be called a Chief Culture Officer.  But it’s enough that the appointment was made.  

As readers of my blog will know, I was a fan of Lippert’s weekly Adweek column on advertising. It was superb.  

Stuart Elliott’s announcement of the event was marred slightly by two of the reader comments that followed it. 

I know I’m going to get slammed by this opinion and I mean no disrespect; but even the most au courant 55 year-old is in no position to be the trend spotter for an ad agency. While I think the overwhelming weight that’s placed on reaching 18-34 is a huge error, it represents the current state of the business; and no 55-year-old is going to have her hand on that pulse. It may be bad form to bring the fictional Mad Men into this, but last season, we saw Don (who is 20 years younger) make several faux pas because of his lack of feel for a younger zeitgeist.

If Goodby, Silverstein wants this kind of input, they need to impanel a diverse group of twenty-somethings, who bring a variety of veiws to their attention.
[ signed, Curly Countering pomposity, dated January 28, 2011 ]

The second comment:

I second the view about the incongruity of a 55 year old trendspotter. I don’t care how hip you are, you just aren’t on the cutting edge of much except Botox and Rogaine. […]
[ signed, copywolf, dated January 29, 2011 ]

Assumptions, assumptions!  

Assumption 1: that Lippert was hired as a trend spotter.  

Jeff Goodby doesn’t say anything about trend spotting.  In fact, Lippert has been hired as an expert on pop culture.  God spare us, Goodby and Silverstein, if she fulfills her duties by spotting trends.  Culture is only about 20% trends. Agencies and corporations that spend their time spotting these trends lock themselves into an endless game of catch up.  Lippert is responsible for the whole of the water front of our culture, and here her age becomes an advantage.  

Assumption 2: that you have to be one to know one.  (Specifically, only someone who is 18-34 can report on this demographic group.)

This notion was dispatched during the political correctness debates.  When members of excluded groups insisted that only they could report on these groups, the world had to remind them that the argument would cost them the right to report on any other group.  They stopped.   

Assumption 3: that it’s ok to trade in stereotypes about Botox and Rogaine.  

If you were generalizing about gender, race or ethnicity in this way, the world would have put you in a small room with John Galliano, the fashion world’s ranking anti-semite.  

The real question:

Is Barbara Lippert old enough to be a curator of pop culture?  Has she lived, studied and observed enough to make good on the responsibility with which she’s been charged?Studying ads and the ad business for 20 years is actually an excellent perspective from which to study our culture.  And she is, to judge her by her column, a real talent.  My plan: wait and see.

References

Elliott, Stuart. 2011. “Longtime Ad Critic to Curate Pop Culture.” New York Times. http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/longtime-ad-critic-to-curate-pop-culture/

Cultural assignments as (or for) a Chief Culture Officer

A friend of mine writes to say she is looking for someone who writes well and can help her "communicate creative projects."

This would be an interesting assignment because a) this person has an extraordinary cultural knowledge, b) she works for an international organization which extraordinary cultural reach, and c) there is a good chance she will end up as a Chief Culture Officer somewhere and,God willing, there.  On all accounts, this would be a great assignment.

Here’s the deal.  If you are interested, send me an email with a one page CV attached. I will pass the email along to my friend unopened and unread.  Please don’t ask me for any additional information.  I know only what I’ve told you.  And please don’t ask me for the secret password for this assignment. It’s secret!

On other matters to do with the Chief Culture Officer, I was thrilled to hear that Goodby, Silverstein and Partners have appointed Barbara Lippert as their pop culture curator. Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of the work that Barbara did on advertising for Adweek.  (And I remain convinced that if the New York Times did not harbor a contempt for popular culture, they would have hired Barbara as their advertising critic long ago.)  I owe news of Barbara’s appointment to a friend of this blog (and mine), Rick Liebling. See Rick’s treatment here.  As Rick points out, Goodby, Silverstein also employs Gareth Kay as their head of planning.  This gives the San Francisco firm two powerhouses in the cultural field.

References

Elliott, Stuart.  2011.  Longtime Ad Critic To Curate Pop Culture.  New York Times.  January 28.  here.