Annie Leibovitz/Louis Vuitton/HO/AP
Mikhail Gorbachev appears in an ad for
the French luxury label Louis Vuitton.

Weak Economy Forces Inventive Advertising Strategies

August 19, 2008 01:37 PM
by Liz Colville
Despite the implicit risk in redefining a company during a recession, many well-known brands are taking leaps and garnering the spotlight in the process.

‘Core Values’

A recession is no time to slow down, at least for a handful of well-known brands looking to recruit a new audience and continue to satisfy loyal customers.

Louis Vuitton, whose luxury leather handbags and luggage are sold and replicated the world over, drew new attention to its brand in 2007 with “Core Values,” a series of ads for its luggage line. The ads feature an array of household names of the Hollywood variety, but insist upon something deeper than celebrity: “personal journeys.”

Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the ads show the famous—like Francis Ford Coppola and his daughter Sofia or former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev—pausing in the midst of travel, their ubiquitous carry-ons displayed nearby. The campaign, created by top New York firm Ogilvy & Mather, has been “hugely successful,” according to Louis Vuitton executive Pietro Beccari.

The New York Times spoke to the arguable randomness of employing names like Gorbachev and Keith Richards in a luxury fashion ad campaign, mentioning other fashion mainstays that have broken from tradition to target new customers, or simply to move with a trend.

Other companies use the pervasive Web—specifically online video—to create a virus and hope it spreads. Parrot, which manufactures hands-free headsets for cell phones, created viral videos with the help of Los Angeles agency Ground Zero. Parrot hopes to attract Californians, who in July were banned from using cell phones without a hands-free device while driving. In creating amusing and anecdotal video segments, Parrot could also enjoy the relative inexpensiveness of viral marketing.

Opinion & Analysis: When brands go deeper

“Nontraditional” forms of advertising can cause consumers to “stop in their tracks and focus on something in a real deep and meaningful way,” says Scott Leonard of the L.A. firm A.D.D. Marketing, in the Los Angeles Times. Louis Vuitton’s approach shifts the focus from material wealth to accomplishment: its luggage holds Francis Ford Coppola’s latest screenplay and Keith Richards’ music notes—two examples of sentimental value. This helps the audience to connect and “focus” on a story, rather than an object, and de-emphasizes brand identity in favor of personal identity.

In effect, Louis Vuitton has not changed the brand identity of its luggage at all, and this is a good thing. John Williams, writing for, advises companies to appreciate the “value in your name and image, even if you're tired of it personally” and to keep “key design elements that still work.”

Todd Domke of The Boston Globe notes that presidential candidates have been reduced to “shorthand concepts like ‘brand’” by the news media, which is eager to quickly distill the candidates’ offerings for viewers. While this approach may have been helpful in the primaries when there were eight candidates to choose from, Domke says it undermines the “democratic process” to describe McCain and Obama in marketing terms.

Commercial brands are seconding that wisdom, with help from visual media. And many are asking for audience input to help forge a connection between product and consumer. As the Los Angeles Times noted earlier this year, recruiting the creativity and talent of kids and teenagers is leading young people on the path toward brand loyalty. Macy’s Epic Thread line of clothing asked youths to submit T-shirt designs, with the chance of seeing their winning designs in stores. Similarly, brands like Skintimate and CoverGirl have targeted cheerleading camps, to the delight of young girls. These methods may pay off, as Harris Interactive reports that “[a]bout two-thirds of teens are loyal to brands they like.”

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