Series-branded clothing ranges add extra dimension to TV

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

As Banana Republic’s new Mad Men-branded clothing range hits the rails, will it pave the way for a flood of TV-endorsed clothing lines on the high street?

TV and character-branded clothing lines are typically the realm of childrenswear, with logos and images from youth favourites adorning clothing as far back as I can remember – my most treasured items of clothing when I was 11 were my Beverly Hills 90210 and Ren and Stimpy t-shirts. These days it’s more along the lines of cult childrens hits such as Ben 10, Dora the Explorer and Hannah Montana.

But the launch of Banana Republic’s Mad Men branded clothing line this month shows that there is room for this kind of tie up in the adult clothing space. The collection taps into the cult following the series has amassed, alongside the show’s continued ability to turn heads in the fashion world thanks to the talents of its lead costume designer Janie Bryant. Bryant in fact even collaborated on the Banana Republic tie-up, lending a real sense of authority and credibility to the range.

Mad Men

This isn’t the first TV-branded clothing range – Miss Selfridge last year launched a Gossip Girl branded range with some success, aimed at the teen market. Licensing a TV brand is a serious step, taking a clothing retailer’s efforts beyond ‘inspired by’ ranges which are plentiful in stores, as presumably it allows a retailer to use signature styles from a TV series or film but conveniently exempts them from the heavy licensing fees of actually using the brand to market the line.

It also goes beyond the common practice of TV personalities lending their celebrity brands to clothing ranges, such as Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby for Very.co.uk, and on the high end, Danni Minogue’s Project D. The persona approach is certainly a meaningful way to leverage the popularity of a household name when marketing fashion, but opting to take on the brand of an entire TV series arguably allows fashion brands to target a specific audience and tap into a much bigger zeitgeist than just one person is able to create.

Is Banana Republic then setting a new benchmark for branded clothing lines?  And is this going to be a new way for TV brands to find an extra dimension of revenue beyond typical DVDs and merchandise?

Having said that, I wonder if there have been missed opportunities in the past. The Guardian has offered its spoof list of potential TV-clothing partnerships, but what about real prospects? Sex and the City is an obvious one, with fashion magazines the world over splashing looks from it every time one of its stars steps out.

Glee, the 90210 new generation series and even films such as Black Swan and Moulin Rouge also come to mind.

No doubt this has fashion marketers thinking hard about what their next branded tie-up could involve, but let’s step back to think about whether this is really the cash cow it might appear to be on the surface.

While branded clothing lines might work on children and teens, will adults resent dressing like copycats of TV characters? Does having a TV brand logo on a piece of clothing cheapen it rather than make it more desirable, knowing that such an identikit look is being copied by thousands of people all over the country?

There is also a risk of disappointment from buyers when they don’t end up looking quite like the vision of the TV character they have in their heads. Bloggers are already commenting on the poor fabric quality and lack of authenticity of the Banana Republic Mad Men line. Meanwhile, just having revisited the Miss Selfridge Gossip Girl line from last year, the items definitely do not look like they came from the wardrobes of rich Upper East Siders.

Licensing a brand name is a much bigger investment than simply creating an inspired by line. While marketing might be made easy, the brand risks being bigger than the product, which as we all know, turns customers off and risks damaging a brand.

Let’s hope fans are as impressed with Banana Republic’s Mad Men line as they are with the show itself.

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