British brands enabling fans to shop real-time #LFW trends by leveraging outdoor advertising

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

Despite fashion week being all about what clothes we’re going to wear next season, brands including Hunter Original and Topshop will push current stock in a big way when London begins from Friday.

Both are turning to digital screens up and down the UK in Ocean Outdoor’s network, in a bid to truly capitalize on the hype that London Fashion Week brings. They will run real-time out-of-home (OOH) campaigns that not only provide consumers with more access to the event than ever before, but encourage them to actually shop by placing existing product, rather than new, front and center.

The fashion industry has struggled to solve the conundrum that building huge hype during fashion week season brings, when that tends to be six months before products hit the shop floor. Essentially, by the time the collections arrive, the shopper is already on to the next. Burberry was one of the first to make some of its line available for purchase immediately as far back as 2010, in response. Numerous other brands have followed suit since, including as recently as Tommy Hilfiger yesterday in New York.

But that idea only goes so far in practice. By the nature of their release, those items tend to be limited in numbers; either pre-produced thus run as more of a campaign (Tommy Hilfiger), or available for pre-order and delivery in just a few weeks on items that are straightforward to do so with (Burberry). Shifting the production process any further is quite an ordeal for most design houses, but for those on the high street it can be quite a different story.

“Since Burberry first [live streamed its show] there has been a slow trickle of better accessibility and speed to market from fashion week,” Lindsay Nuttall, chief digital officer of BBH and former global head of strategy and communications at Asos , told me. “Zara famously turn around production in a rapid process to soak up demand piqued by fashion week coverage. At ASOS we would provide guides of the key trends from each season for fashion hungry customers that related directly to current stock we were carrying. Innovation in digital formats like mobile and digital outdoor is shifting this up a gear now and taking it out to the mainstream consumer.”

Hunter and Topshop will be some of the first examples of brands making fashion week shoppable by promoting current, and therefore assumedly less limited, stock in conjunction with their shows.

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Hunter will kickstart its initiative by live streaming from its catwalk on Monday February 23 at 6pm GMT simultaneously across nine billboards. Run by agency Candyspace, this digital first for the industry (Burberry previously live streamed its show on just one billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus), will hit high-traffic retail environments in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow. Messaging alongside the show will drive the audience to Hunterboots.com, as will a content takeover on the landing page of the WiFi-enabled sites for those logging in via their mobiles.

The brand will continue its campaign for three further days after the show, pairing content from the new Fall 2015 collection alongside similar pieces already available for purchase this season, including a poncho, parka and boot. By focusing on core silhouettes and ‘icon’ styles, rather than merely newness, the brand aims to offer the inspiration, not to mention the functionality, for immediate purchase.

Topshop meanwhile has partnered with Twitter to showcase  key trends emerging from London Fashion Week according to tweets using the #LFW hashtag. That real-time data will be fed through to billboards around the country from Friday February 20 until Tuesday February 24. It will be displayed as a word cloud and placed alongside corresponding shoppable Topshop product.

Consumers will also be invited to tweet to @Topshop with any one of the trends highlighted (it might be #pleats or #colourblocking for instance), to then receive a curated shopping list in response. Six billboards – all of which are within 10 minutes walking distance of a Topshop store – will be utilized for the time period. The experience will be replicated in one of the Topshop Oxford Circus windows as well as viaTopshop.com.

Sheena Sauvaire, global marketing and communications director at Topshop, said: “Through Twitter’s listening power, we can allow our global consumer to shop the trends as and when they happen, and give them insight and access into runway shows. The idea of live advertising is just beginning, and thanks to the Ocean Outdoor sites, this will be a first example of real-time shoppable billboards.”

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For both Hunter and Topshop, which are of course two of the more accessible fashion week brands in terms of price point, it’s a smart move to marry fresh and buzzworthy content with current stock. It’s smarter again to facilitate the shopping element of it all by integrating a seamless mobile experience, says Nuttall. “Linking everything to mobile means awareness and engagement is never more than one swipe away from converting to purchase, right there and then, wherever they are.”

Both campaigns have the potential to not only satisfy consumer appetite, but also provide measurable return on investment (ROI) on what would otherwise be a pure brand awareness push.

As the Hunter team said in a statement: “[It] will allow Hunter to capitalize on the heightened brand attention afforded by London Fashion Week and maximize this considerable commercial opportunity, addressing the challenge to drive sales six months before the runway collection lands in stores.”

This focus on ROI also comes at a time when the industry seems to be moving away from large scale, or more PR-worthy, innovation usually seen during fashion week – think drones at Fendi or a 4-D water show from Polo Ralph Lauren. Instead the emphasis so far in New York this season has been on social media programs that drive conversion, according to WWD.

As Melisa Goldie, chief marketing officer of Calvin Klein, told the paper: “You can have millions and millions of eyeballs, but if there’s no real conversation it’s nothing but a bunch of eyeballs… We really want to show that we are getting a return on our investment that is beyond just brand awareness and buzz. That is the next phase of digital.”

OOH done well has the potential to fit within that remit. Says Nuttall: “Outdoor has always been a brilliantly high impact and creative medium. It’s also always been able to reach a burgeoning young fashion consumer at a key moment that is both inherently social and ripe for conversion – when they are out and about shopping with their friends.”

The idea of a shoppable OOH campaign is “hard working commercial stuff”, she adds. “If the fashion industry embraces the creative and commercial opportunity that it represents, it will be really exciting to see where they take it.”