A New Approach for Gucci and Calvin Klein

28 Mar

Two luxury fashion brands have caught our eye over the last few weeks for their very different communications forays into very different parts of culture.

Calvin Klein, under new creative direction from Raf Simon, has recently overhauled its advertising aesthetic. Over the past few years the go-to formula has been [celebrity + sex] but the most recent print campaign depicts androgynous models wearing jeans or loose underwear, largely facing away from the camera and towards famous works of modern art.


via Calvin Klein

For a while now concerns have arisen around the Calvin Klein brand for its over-reliance on fleeting celebrity culture and its lack of focus on building a brand that stands for something timeless, or at least something deeper than a name and a body. In light of this, the fact that CK is subverting its character by stepping out of its premium fashion category and into the upper echelons of modern art, offers an appetising glimpse into the direction in which Simons will take the brand. Fashion in art, art in fashion: the two as one and the same.

While it could be said that Calvin Klein has taken the high (brow) road, Gucci has done just the opposite, putting the spotlight on internet meme culture for its recent Instagram uploads. The brand has collaborated with meme royalty to create content that advertises the new Gucci watch, in a highly self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek, and utterly delightful manner. It is refreshing to see a luxury brand not take itself too seriously; Gucci is engaging with a facet of culture from which it usually estranges itself, and is engaging with it in an authentic way by promoting the important voices within that area of culture rather than shouting over them.


via @Gucci on Instagram

The Gucci meme phenomenon could signal the start of a new wave of social media consciousness in luxury brands; Instagram is no longer just a place to share perfected photos, it is a platform with a unique language, etiquette and means of expression, and brands that can authentically tap into this will unlock vast swathes of the internet population, people with whom they would not usually have the permission to be in dialogue.

Both Calvin Klein and Gucci are showing that to be a powerful player in the cultural conversation at the level of premium fashion, you not only have to take risks, you also have to be willing to change your perspective to break with the past and forge new possibilities. Borrowing from high or low brow worlds does not diminish your brand value, rather it strengthens the power of your voice, giving it more dimensions, and opens brands up to new audiences.

London Is Watching

21 Mar

Last week we saw the launch of a new campaign from Transport for London to help tackle the issue of sexual harassment and violence on public transport in London. The print campaign uses negative space to illustrate how offenders are more likely to be caught if victims of assault ensure that they report it to the police. An adjacent video campaign shows a businessman giving a presentation with a heavily pixelated and blurred out face – as more and more women report the sexual harassment he inflicted, his face becomes clearer and better defined, eventually leading to his arrest in the workplace.


via TfL

Interestingly this campaign targets women rather than men, asking them to come forward to report assaults to prevent it happening again – ‘Report It, To Stop It’. This approach, targeting specific women who have experienced assault, attempts to create a community that through shared knowledge can tackle the perpetrators of these crimes.

Although the campaign does not blame the victims of assault, they do seem to be implicitly saying that victims are responsible for any further assaults that their attacker carries out if they do not report it. We’d like to see TfL take a more progressive approach to this campaign – not just asking the victims themselves but other people on trains and buses to be vigilant and aware. If they want to create a safe community on public transport in London, part of that comes from creating an atmosphere where women and other vulnerable groups feel that if they are attacked, someone will stand up for them, rather than let it pass them by.


via Disrespect Nobody

Government campaigns such as ‘Disrespect Nobody’ are already tackling signs of relationship abuse and educating people to prevent sexual and domestic violence in relationships. It may be that it becomes the role of TfL not just to prevent attacks but also to educate and inform passengers, alongside the government campaigns. Previous campaigns such as ‘London is Open’ have emphasised the communal and hospitable nature of London. Perhaps it is time for a new slogan, ‘London is Watching’, so that victims of assault, sexual or otherwise, know that their fellow Londoners are looking out for them.


Nike Update – The Hijab Collection

16 Mar

In the Cultural Insight team at Kantar Added Value we like to keep a close eye on what Nike is doing. Despite being a highly commercialised and established brand, it takes on a disruptive role in culture by driving conversation around sport, health and wellbeing. The latest Nike disruption comes in the form of the Nike Pro Hijab (note the potential double meaning of ‘Pro’), a high-performance hijab designed for Muslim women athletes who cover their hair. As with all Nike products, the Hijab Collection is technically adept and has elevated a simple item of clothing to become an athletic asset. The move has unsurprisingly prompted a wide range of responses from excitement and praise to accusations of misogyny and dollar-chasing – The Guardian reports that the Islamic market is projected to be worth more than $5trillion by 2020.


via Twitter.com

Nike developed the product in collaboration with Muslim athletes with the overall objective of removing barriers for Muslim women in sport, following from the Nike definition, ‘if you have a body, you are an athlete’.  It is uplifting to see this spirit of inclusivity extend into their product designs, especially at such a politically fractious time where women’s bodies, Islam and the intersection between the two, are under constant scrutiny, debate and attack.

The Changing Status of Social Media

10 Mar

WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram. In the beginning, we needed all three. Each app was wildly differentiated from the other two and served a distinct purpose. WhatsApp was for keeping up with friends and family in an informal manner, establishing little connections throughout the day away from more public-facing social media platforms. Instagram on the other hand, was for sharing our best, dare we say, envy-inducing moments. To keep up with friends and family, but also to curate a persona, a life, a world. The best of the best within a little square. Snapchat was a cross between the two; visuals are more important than text, as in Instagram, but the fleeting nature of the photos means that people are not overly concerned about projecting an aspirational lifestyle. Snapchat allows us to share the funny, the ugly and the bizarre with our nearest and dearest.

whatsapp status

via Whatsapp

Over the last year though, each app has innovated so much so that the three are becoming largely indistinguishable. Or at least, they all now boast the same functions. The individual brands are slowly eroding. Consider WhatsApp’s new ‘status’ function, which is simply a new iteration of Instagram Stories – which is itself an iteration of Snapchat Stories. In trying to be all things to all people, the three apps are slowly merging. From a business point of view it makes sense, why not copy what works? But as branding specialists, we can’t help but wonder whether these innovations mean anti-differentiation.

We’re interested to see what happens when people have to choose which app to post which photo to – if the functions are becoming increasingly similar, is it just the audience that changes? Will people continue to behave differently on each app? Or will people abandon the current needs-based hierarchy in favour of one panacea-app?

We would love to see each app begin to truly innovate by pushing forwards with its own very distinct sense of what the future is. Interrogate your purpose, remember what makes you unique and innovate single-mindedly. In short, examine how your DNA evolves, without looking over your shoulder.

Gender Bias on Instagram

8 Mar

With over 350 million photos posted to Facebook every day and over 60 million uploaded to Instagram, it is clear that visual social media carries real influence in the world we live in.

Looking at user generated content (content uploaded by ordinary people, not brands or businesses) can provide visually and emotionally rich insights into what people think and how they feel.

Due to its cultural significance and emotionally-led content, we thought visual social media was fertile ground to analyse gender bias, and so we took to Instagram to see the ways in which gender bias is presented.


We started by identifying some hashtags in which we thought bias was likely to be present and collated a sample of images under each. We then conducted semiotic analysis on our sample to find patterns within the images, and quantified each to give an indication of scale.


The results for #engineer show visual social media isn’t devoid of gender bias. On the contrary in fact, it is rather prevalent.

A New Direction For The Golden Arches

7 Mar

The new advertising campaign from McDonalds for the McCafé range caught our attention recently – it’s a direct attack on the hipster, millennial, independent coffee shops that aim to provide an authentic and artisanal coffee experience. The advert demonises these independent spaces as being over-the-top, overpriced, and overrated – interesting when you consider that McDonalds’ actual rival on the high street coffee market are brands such as Starbucks, Costa, and Caffe Nero.


McCafe – via McDonalds

McDonalds has excelled at redefining itself in the past few years as an ‘honest’ company, all British, all natural, and straightforward prices that aren’t going to rip off their customers. But this message still jars with many people’s perception of the McDonalds’ stores – and for those who are looking for an ‘honest’ cup of coffee, why would they go to a fast food chain that smells of grease, is full of screaming children and always seems to be in the middle of a clean-up?

We think there is a niche in the crowded coffee market in the UK for a down to earth, relaxed space that offers a friendlier and cheaper coffee experience than those currently available. McDonalds already have the brand with McCafé –  but they should now make the McCafé a brand a destination in its own right. They have trialled this previously in other markets but the restaurant’s aesthetic and menu in these countries feel more upmarket and akin to a Starbucks.


McCafe France – via McDonalds

There is a huge desire in the UK for a coffee chain and café space that offers a more functional and affordable option. For McCafé this could look a little like Greggs’ dine-in facilities, functional and unfussy, offering the kind of ‘honest’ food McDonalds promotes. The space could be simple and clean, without the kind of dark, oppressive interior that places such as Costa and Starbucks provide. And of course, the coffee would just be coffee.

A Less Charitable Cashless Society

22 Feb

The shift from a cash-carrying to cash-less society in the UK has been incredibly rapid, with the effects of the shift to contactless increasing in the past year. Although this shift to using digital transactions has been lauded by many as proof of our technological advances making lives easier, many others have identified the creation of a two-tier world where those without access to bank accounts or incomes are cut off from life because of their dependence on cash. The CEO of Mastercard, Ajay Banga, has been vocal about his passion to bring people who live outside of the financial system into it, as otherwise we risk ‘creating islands, where the unbanked transact only with each other’.

For many of us who don’t carry cash – or at least not in the same way we did 10 years ago – we are unable to donate the spare change to those in need as we used to do. In the Netherlands an ad agency recently released a new solution to this growing gap; a jacket, to be worn by homeless people that not only keeps them warm but also allows passers-by to donate €1 by tapping the contactless payment area. The money that is donated can then be redeemed in shelters for food, a bed and a bath.


Via Blue Cross


This isn’t the first foray by charities to try and encourage us to donate using our contactless cards – Cancer Research UK has trialled contactless donation terminals in central locations, and the Blue Cross attached contactless donation points to dogs to create the world’s first ‘canine fundraisers’. The move to cash-free is forcing charities to rapidly innovate, but this can be beneficial. The children’s charity NSPCC said that their recent trial using contactless donations set at a fixed amount such as £1/£2 actually increased their average donations, because people are less likely to donate small coin denominations, and because contactless offers a quick and easy spontaneous donation.


Via the NSPCC

We’d love to see charities partnering with other brands in this area to fully explore all innovation opportunities; people want to donate money to worthy causes, but they now expect this to be as easy and on demand a process as everything else in their lives, and charities must rise to this. A financial brand such as Mastercard could back a charity contactless campaign, such as the jacket for homeless people, to provide more credibility and confidence for those who decide to donate on the street. Alternatively brands such as supermarkets could encourage in-store charity donations by offering to round up transaction amounts, from say £6.59 to £7.00, with the extra money going straight to the customer’s charity of choice.

Although the evolving digital economy offers solutions and possibilities for many, we must be careful as a society to ensure that those without access to it are not excluded entirely – and brands should play a vital part in helping to bridge this gap.