Passion for fashion goes beyond designer brands

Brands not normally associated with catwalks and celebrity models are forming partnerships with London Fashion Week and British design talent to engage with a younger target audience.


British fashion has been a major global export for decades and numerous brands connected to the industry have long used sponsorship to hang off its coat-tails. But in the run up to this year’s London Fashion Week (LFW) starting next Friday (September 14), a wider spread of sponsors from a more diverse range of sectors are associating themselves with the £21bn business.

These include confectionery brand Ferrero, which is using its Kinder Bueno chocolate bar to sponsor London Fashion Weekend for the first time this year (see Q&A, below).

Activity includes a partnership with the consumer-facing Weekend – rather than the trade-only LFW – and on-pack promotions. Marketing manager Emma Colquhoun explains: “The fashion partnership is a longer term equity building partnership, so we’re looking to drive perceptions of Bueno being a stylish brand for this audience – a relevant brand that consumers feel is a brand for them.”

It might seem unusual for a chocolate brand to be involved with a fashion show, but it will work because it is focused on “feeling good about a light indulgence” in a similar way to buying clothes might be, she claims.

kinda bueno

Ferrero wants to use its sponsorship to reach women aged between 25 and 34. “Obviously we have some baggage on Bueno being called Kinder – people perceive us as maybe a brand for kids, so for us it’s important that we very clearly position ourselves as a brand that’s relevant for women,” Colquhoun adds.

“Our research shows that fashion and lifestyle are very motivating and relevant to our target audience, and we felt there was a very clear association between the idea of fashion as a light indulgence that women feel good about, and Bueno as a light indulgence that they feel good about.”

Not all brands are targeting women through their fashion sponsorships, however. Mercedes-Benz, which has established itself as a major fashion sponsor around the world by partnering with over 30 fashion events, says its primary aim is to change brand perceptions and appeal to a younger audience across both sexes.

The company, which this year added South Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg to its list of headline fashion sponsorships pursues a wide range of fashion-related marketing initiatives (see Case Study, below).

Fashion gear

According to Debbie Hull, brand and lifestyle communications manager at Mercedes-Benz UK, a key strategy for the company is to engage with new audiences, particularly as it prepares to launch a new compact car range next year aimed at a younger, aspirational owner.

“It’s probably no secret to say that in the past, people viewed Mercedes as car they would have when they reached a certain point in life, or when they had reached a pinnacle of success,” she says.

“We’re trying to talk to 25- to 44-year-olds through the channels they use, about the subjects that they want to engage with. Fashion ticks those boxes because it’s exciting, stylish, sexy and fun.”

Mercedes Benz

While sponsoring fashion weeks around the world allows Mercedes to reach women, the brand has run various campaigns focused on men’s fashion too. This includes sponsorship of GQ magazine’s Best Dressed List, which this year saw Mercedes-Benz work with GQ’s art team on an exclusive photo shoot featuring three of the brand’s elite performance cars alongside three male models. The company also sponsored the first London Collections: Men Weekend, which the British Fashion Council (BFC) ran in June.

Through such campaigns, Mercedes generates marketing material for use across its brand and gains exposure to the huge amount of press interest in fashion events and their accompanying celebrity parties.

Hull says it’s difficult to put a figure on the return on investment from such activities. “We’re talking about changing brand perception, and that’s not going to happen overnight. We see fashion as another tool and another channel for getting our messages across.”

For marketers who want to see hard data, figures can be found. IMG, the agency that runs the Fashion Fringe award for up and coming designers at LFW, puts the PR value of the scheme at £2.97m. It states that each of Fashion Fringe’s sponsors receive a PR value of anywhere between £73,000 and £1.91m depending on their level of investment and activation. The figures are based on advertising value equivalency rates.

Emerging designers are proving a popular sponsorship target. Vodafone recently announced a partnership with up-and-coming designer Mary Katrantzou, which will provide customers with exclusive access to her catwalk shows and clothing lines. Ecommerce giant eBay, meanwhile, has also announced a multiseason sponsorship deal with the BFC’s Fashion Forward scheme, which supports emerging UK-based designers.


Data from IMG indicates that these new partnerships are likely to develop into long-term relationships. According to the agency, many of Fashion Fringe’s corporate partners have renewed their sponsorship consistently over recent years, including official logistics partner DHL.

Fiona Taag, global sponsorship manager at DHL, says its tie-ups with major fashion events around the world are focused much more on promoting the company’s role within the industry, rather than changing brand perceptions.


“LFW is one of the main events on the fashion calendar and attracts the interest of large and small players in the industry from around the globe,” she says. “As such, it provides us with the perfect stage to showcase our logistics offer.”

Taag claims that by participating in fashion events, DHL is able to keep its “finger on the pulse” of the sector and raise the brand’s profile as a facilitator for trade. “DHL’s customers include some of the most prominent and established fashion houses in the world, as well as many up-and-coming talents in the field, who we’re able to guide through early growth phases and long into maturity.”

DHL talks in terms of “activation” and “bringing to life” its role within the fashion industry. As part of this, it launched a video infographic with couture design house and previous Fashion Fringe winner Fyodor Golan on the international elements of one of its most famous designs in order to demonstrate the global nature of the industry and the role of transport and logistics.

Seamless service

This notion of being an “enabler” for the industry is also central to Vodafone’s sponsorship of LFW (see Viewpoint, below). It has taken over from Canon as lead sponsor of the show and one of its initiatives is to install phone and tablet recharge points along the front row at catwalk shows for press and industry delegates to use.

Danielle Crook, Vodafone’s UK director of brand marketing, says the idea is about “helping people to do the job they’re there to do”.

Meanwhile, the Vodafone VIP loyalty programme offers subscribers tickets for both the week and weekend events, as well as the chance to go backstage, attend launch parties and shop at exclusive sample sales.

Crook says Vodafone has heeded the warnings of fashion industry insiders, who point out that brands have failed in their marketing objectives when they have “come in and tried to take over the space”. She argues that it is better to complement the industry, which is particularly free-thinking and creative, rather than attempting to dominate it.

fashion weekend

Indeed, there is a big difference between partnering with fashion, and attempting to become a fashion brand in some way. Music store HMV, for example, flirted with the idea of moving into fashion in 2010 when it launched its Studio concept.

This was set up as a partnership with a handful of clothing brands which each had a strong affinity with music, including Boxfresh, Fly 53 and Rocawear. The idea was to sell the brands in a dedicated area in HMV stores, while the company also considered launching its own fashion label.

Gennaro Castaldo, head of PR at HMV, says: “We looked closely at the idea of pop-culture related fashion a couple of years back as there is clearly a strong overlap between music and fashion. However, while some of the trials did well for us, we felt that practical concerns regarding merchandising and changing area facilities might become an issue, particularly for our smaller shops.”

Despite the setback, Castaldo insists that as a result of the fashion experiment, HMV was able to expand its range of rock and pop T-shirts and other merchandising, which are still sold in HMV stores. He also claims that around this time, HMV started looking more seriously at portable technology products, such as headphones and tablets, as an area of diversification for the business. It has since rolled out a hugely expanded tech offer, which has in turn enhanced HMV’s standing as a lifestyle brand, rather than just an entertainment brand.

“It became quickly evident this was a much stronger long-term fit with music, film and games than fashion products, not least because it’s through digital technology that people increasingly discover the entertainment content they love, while it sits more comfortably with our growing multichannel aspirations,” he adds.

So while fashion can be an enduring allure for brands, marketers must be careful that their associations fit the creative world of clothes and must make sure their ventures match their overall marketing strategy.

And as the fashion world descends on London next week, a huge range of brands will look to make the most of their association with the industry. Hull at Mercedes says that for all the fashion events her company sponsors, London remains a particular highlight.

“One of the reasons our German head office wants to have London in its portfolio of fashion weeks is because the city is seen as one of the most creative events,” she adds. “Whenever I speak to people about it, they always quote the fact that the most creative designers – people like Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson – started life in London. I think that says it all.”



Emma Colquhoun
Marketing manager, Kinder

Marketing Week (MW): Why did Kinder Bueno sponsor London Fashion Weekend?

Emma Colquhoun (EC): It’s been a fairly new development for us in terms of thinking about being involved in fashion. About a year ago, we redefined our position in the market around the idea of feeling good about a light indulgence. From there we looked at associations that would help differentiate Bueno in what is obviously a hugely competitive market in a way that’s relevant for our target audience of women aged 25 to 34.

MW: Why did fashion stand out in particular?

EC: Our research showed that fashion and lifestyle are very motivating and relevant to our target audience, and we felt there was a very clear association between the idea of fashion as a light indulgence that women feel good about, and Bueno as a light indulgence that they feel good about.

MW: What is Bueno doing to activate its fashion sponsorship?

EC: We’re doing a ‘Fabulous Fashion’ on-pack promotion that will run from September for 60 days, where each day customers can win two fashion prizes – something light and something indulgent, so maybe a ballgown and a floaty summer dress. We also have the Fashion Weekend partnership, where we’re launching a Bueno lounge at Somerset House. This is a point of relaxation where people can indulge in watching the fashion, but where they can also make themselves feel good. So we’ll offer them a mini massage, complimentary Bueno bars and comfortable chairs for them to chill out on.

MW: Is Bueno running a digital campaign as part of its fashion sponsorship?

EC: We’re updating and modernising our website to incorporate fashion and our House of Bueno idea. The website will look like a very luxurious department store where consumers can go and learn more about London Fashion Weekend, but also about the partners that we’re working with, such as L’Oréal and Karen Millen. We’ll also have a Facebook presence alongside that.

MW: Is fashion a particularly vibrant UK industry with which to be associated?

EC: Yes, but the reason we moved into fashion was based purely on it being very relevant for our target audience. It’s very supportive of our brand proposition of an indulgence that you feel good about because when people enter into fashion, it’s also an indulgence that makes them feel good, so there are a lot of synergies with our brand. I think the longevity and the role of fashion just helps reinforce that it’s the right territory for a brand like Bueno.

Case study: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz describes fashion as one of its global marketing platforms along with motorsport and golf. The luxury car brand sponsors fashion events in more than 30 countries, including headline sponsorship of fashion calendar favourites like New York Fashion Week and Berlin Fashion Week. The company has also been the official vehicle partner of London Fashion Week since September 2009.

Debbie Hull, brand and lifestyle communications manager at Mercedes-Benz UK, says a key strategy for the company is to engage with a new, younger audience.

In order to change perceptions of the brand, Mercedes is looking to maximise the publicity it receives from its association with fashion. Hull describes fashion as “a platform that gives us credibility to do fashionable things”, from having a presence at celebrity-filled launch parties to showcasing Mercedes models alongside the latest designer clothes.

The brand has pursued the association beyond fashion events, too, including through a partnership with Rake, a Savile Row fashion brand. This has generated positive publicity for Mercedes thanks to Rake’s celebrity patrons. “You have to be quite clever,” says Hull. “We don’t restrict ourselves to doing things that are literally just on the catwalk in Somerset House because that doesn’t get you to a wide audience.”

As part of its ‘key visuals’, Mercedes-Benz in Germany commissions a seasonal photoshoot of a supermodel with one of its new cars. This September’s shoot features Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls, sporting a striking black catsuit and a black mohawk hairdo, photographed in front of the new CLS Shooting Brake car, by Mario Testino.

Hull says these photoshoots create marketing content that can be used globally across the brand. “It creates quite a lot of interest from magazines because it is Joan Smalls, a new car and Mario Testino.”


Danielle Crook

Danielle Crook
UK director of brand marketingVodafone

When I came into the business almost three years ago, we knew we wanted to start rewarding our customers for their loyalty, and use some form of programme to make them feel they had access to things they didn’t have before. We began with a communications partnership with the British Fashion Council (BFC), and then in the last two seasons we have been the official sponsor of London Fashion Week, and we have London Fashion Weekend too.

Our customers are pretty equally split between men and women. In the past, we have been quite male-oriented in some of our sponsorships so we wanted to represent the full range of our demographics. The things people were most interested in were fashion, sports and music. We happen to have a great presence in sport [with Formula 1], we launched a deal with Live Nation in festivals, and then fashion was our third ‘pillar’.

Given where British fashion is, with all its amazing fashion designers, it seemed like a perfect combination and partnership, and our customers love it. They really like the exposure and access to things that they can’t get through any other brand. We’re the only brand that allows that many customers to get into London Fashion Week and London Fashion Weekend.

There’s a sense of pride that’s building in Britain, and British design is part of that. Fashion contributes a great deal to the UK economy. It employs nearly 1 million people, and when you take into account associated industries, the impact of fashion is around £37bn a year in the UK. So it is something we should be more proud of, and I know the BFC is keen to push that even more.

In numbers

£21bn – Value of UK fashion industry to the British economy, excluding associated industries

£7bn – Projected value of UK online fashion sales by 2015

20% – Annual growth of UK designer clothing sales in the last decade

£41m – Annual spend on UK fashion sector by overseas ‘shopper tourists’

£200m – Estimated value of UK fashion’s domestic brand equity

Source: British Fashion Council report, February 2012

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