Mastercard is on a mission to curate and create priceless experiences that money cannot buy, says Raja Rajamannar, CMO of the company, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
While credit cards have historically been about giving consumers speed and convenience, over the past couple of decades they have made strides into becoming an integral part of how consumers live their lives.
“We are a lifestyle brand. Lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s lifestyle for the rich and famous -lifestyle for everyone,” explains Rajamannar. “Everyone deserves to lead a beautiful life and to grow.”
On the one hand there’s the fact the technology is more seamless – gone is the swiping and signing, and in is the tapping and dipping. And if you’re shopping online, digital wallets mean you don’t even need to remember your password.
But on top of that today are perks focusing on giving consumers exclusive access to events, services and treats that help create an even deeper emotional connection between brand and participant.
A few years ago, Mastercard noticed a change in consumer behavior and strategically shifted its advertising spend into experiences. It now hosts over 750 experiences on any given day globally, from recreating the iconic The Rock restaurant from Zanzibar in NYC’s Tribeca, to enabling card holders to shadow Cirque du Soleil cast members in Canada. This strategy is based on addressing key consumer passion points, ranging from music and sports to the environment and philanthropy.
During this episode, Rajamannar explores creating emotional connections, gives advice to brands on how to drive loyalty through having a clear purpose, and reveals an industry first: why the brand is launching a sonic identity.
Personal care brand Dove has teamed up with singer Kelly Rowland to co-write a song aiming to empower young girls to love their hair. Titled “Crown”, the song is part of Dove’s ongoing Self-Esteem Project, which has reached 29m people since launching in 2004.
“I felt many of the pressures young girls face today when it comes to embracing their hair, but my mom would always tell me that your hair is your crowning glory and you should wear it proudly,” says the singer.
A music video shows the singer accompanied by a diverse cast of young girls, who share their individual stories of how they have been made to feel self-conscious about their hair. Stories include those of 11-year olds Tyrelle Davis and Faith Fennidy, who were sent home from their school for wearing hair extensions. Jorja Orrick, meanwhile, was once bullied for cutting her hair short, which spurred her sister Sarah to do the same in solidarity.
The campaign was created after research conducted by Dove showed that although 65% of young girls see hair as part of their self-expression, almost 50% said it could make them feel self-conscious as well. Furthermore, 71% of respondents cited music as an influential factor in their lives, which prompted the brand to create the empowering tune.
“Dove wants all young girls, and women, to have the confidence to wear their hair anyway they choose, and to see their hair as a source of confidence, not anxiety,” said Piyush Jain, Unilever VP of marketing and general manager of hair care.
To further promote the campaign, Rowland and the Self-Esteem Project will create a workshop at a local Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) in New Jersey. The organization offers children and teens after-school programs where they can learn new skills.
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It’s always interesting looking back at the most-read stories on the site for the year – a hugely indicative view on what the big subjects have been and the direction of travel accordingly for the industry.
This year – while we’ve been living a particularly tough time for retail, with multiple bankruptcies and ongoing store closures – the lens through which we report, has only been a positive one.
There’s been a big focus on sustainability for instance, from new bioengineered materials actually hitting at a commercial level, through to the role blockchain can play in enabling greater transparency.
Artificial intelligence has also been a particularly pertinent subject – ranging from the impact it’s having on personalisation, to the future of automated stores and the role of voice technology.
On the subject of the future, our ongoing fascination with space travel hit fever pitch this year too – as a society at large, and within the fashion industry itself once more – which was reflected in our long-read on the future branding opportunity that lies in spacesuits.
On top of that in our 10 most popular stories on Fashion & Mash this year was a look at augmented reality, the evolving view on the store of the future and the way in which Instagram Stories is being used.
Space travel has long been a source of inspiration to the fashion industry. When the space race between the Soviet Union and the US was underway in the 1960s, it influenced designers including Paco Rabanne, Courrèges and Pierre Cardin into all manner of both sculptural and streamlined looks.
High fashion houses since have regularly referenced everything and anything related to the galaxy, the fantasy of its contents and the way in which we could navigate it.
One giant leap to modern day and little has changed. This time around it’s the likes of Chanel and Gucci taking their cues directly from exploring our solar system and beyond.
Accessories brand Coach, meanwhile, recently unveiled a limited edition capsule collection of NASA-themed pieces, including handbags, purses and sweatshirts. Said creative director, Stuart Vevers, at the time: “The collection is very nostalgic. There’s something about the time of the space program that just gives this feeling of possibility. The space references, rockets, and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”
In today’s political environment, that feeling of hope may be particularly sought after once more, but the renewed interest in space goes beyond just nostalgia. Head over to Forbes to read all about the space travel on the horizon fuelled by private companies, and what that means for designers in terms of potential branding opportunities as the spacesuit for Elon Musk’s SpaceX is revealed.
Adidas is a “brand in beta”, according to its global creative director, Paul Gaudio. Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today, he referred to the idea of operating via an open-source model appropriated from the technology world.
“We firmly believe the idea that we are a brand in beta. We are never finished. Instead of having all the answers, we prefer to come and ask questions,” he said about the near 70-year old brand. “It’s about constant reinvention… I like to talk about the idea that we’re on a journey. As a brand we’re a story, a narrative; it’s not a fixed thing.”
It’s on that basis the company launched its “Original is never finished” campaign for Adidas Originals earlier this year, which features the likes of Snoop Dogg through to basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and artist Petra Collins. They represent the idea of what it means to be a true original – the idea that things can be done multiple times over, that the brand is never finished. It’s set to a reworking of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
But this idea of exploring self-identity, of connecting closely with culture and community, and indeed the notion of open-source creativity, is also how Adidas approaches its collaborations.
“You can’t do everything inside a little walled garden… you have to bring ideas in from the outside. We do it with athletes, we do it with chemical companies… we know we can’t do this alone,” Gaudio added.
Athlete Stan Smith and fashion designer Alexander Wang were also on stage to discuss the way they have partnered with the brand.
The Adidas Originals x Alexander Wang collaboration was launched with a campaign that took inspiration from the reseller market, for instance. It secretly dropped in different cities around the world out the back of 17 trucks in trash bags as though the items were on the black market. The initiative led to 3 billion media impressions worldwide and the items selling out within one day.
“It was spot on, it was perfect; it captured everything I wanted to say about the collection,” said Wang. But why it worked was largely because of the openness he was met with at Adidas, he explained. “In all my partnerships, I have never been in a conversation that’s been so collaborative and open to ideas. From a creative point of view, I’ve always appreciated that.”
Gaudio added: “I ask myself all the time, ‘why bother?’ If we don’t allow someone like you to bring newness into the brand, what’s the point?”
It’s about releasing control with that open-source mentality working both internally and externally, he explained. “We have to enable creativity within the brand too – we have to create space for people to express themselves and chase their dreams… It’s about creating a framework and then leaving space for people to create; to take the brand to new levels. Good ideas rarely come from the top.”
An absolute must-read this week (away from fashion specifically but heavily based around tech and consumer behaviour and therefore highly relevant to anyone in this space), is this view on “mobile 2.0” from Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz. If there are a billion people with high-end smartphones now, what assumptions can we leave behind in terms of what that means, and what does the future look like accordingly? With AR and machine learning, it’s a pretty fascinating one.
Elsewhere, the latest news is of course geared to New York Fashion Week, with everything from Raf Simons’ successful debut for Calvin Klein and ongoing analysis of what exactly a see-now, buy-now model looks for those partaking. There’s also an update on new features from Pinterest and a big push from Instagram for its Live tool during the shows.
Luxury fashion brands marketing to China’s affluent consumers can no doubt benefit by leveraging the huge social media followings of local fashion bloggers. However, this strategy can leave brands with more questions than answers. Investment company Exane BNP Paribas’ recent report, The Shopping Guide: Bloggers in China, which names China’s top 10 fashion bloggers, explores exactly to what extent these influencers can be helpful.
The report ranks China’s most influential fashion bloggers based on their number of Weibo followers, and some of the most familiar names come out on top, including Gogoboi (ranked #1) and Mr. Bags (#3). Their social media feeds cover a wide range of content that varies from blogger to blogger. For example, Dipsy (called Dixi in Chinese, #2), and Vogue China columnist, whose Weibo handle is weishaonian_k (#8) both post about seasonal collections, runway shows at major international fashion weeks, and Chinese celebrities’ cooperation with brands. Fashion columnist with the handle libeika (#4) and shiliupo (#10) are styling experts who pair products from different brands to show readers how to dress.
The report illustrates that thanks to their vast number of followers, fashion bloggers are equally useful or even better than media coverage and advertisement to create buzz in China, unlike in the West, where bloggers are less influential for luxury brands compared to celebrities and fashion media outlets. This is because the rise of fashion bloggers and the development of the Chinese luxury market happened in tandem. The report explains that fashion bloggers “have filled a void on the internet ahead of luxury/fashion brands and publishers” in educating Chinese consumers about different brands.
However, when it comes to actually transferring popularity from the fashion bloggers to luxury brands, brands have to pay attention to more than just a blogger’s number of followers. Luca Solca, the author of the report and the head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said social media following is not a good enough metric to gauge a blogger’s value. “The number of social actions [likes, shares, and comments] and posts is a much better indicator of social media traction,” he said.
“The real ‘effectiveness’ of key opinion leaders (KOLs) also derives from their personality, specific writing style, visual style, unique skills or level of authority within the fashion industry,” said Patrice Nordey, the Shanghai-based chief executive officer of digital inception agency Velvet Group.
Examples of successful collaborations include Gucci’s turnaround in 2016, which can be said to be because of Chinese fashion bloggers who first caught on to the new designs and promoted them to consumers. Earlier this year, a capsule collection released jointly by Mr. Bags and the handbag brand Strathberry also attracted praise online. Not all matches are perfect though—when Gogoboi took over the Weibo handle of Louis Vuitton during Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015, Chinese internet users sniffed at Louis Vuitton’s choice as they thought Gogoboi’s style did not fit with the brand image. In his latest Weibo campaign for Fendi, the number of comments under his post also dwarfed the average level of engagement he is able to generate.
What is possibly the biggest reason for brands to be cautious about seeking a one-on-one partnership with a Chinese fashion blogger is the unclear relationship between sales and influencer marketing. After Gogoboi’s November Fendi campaign, the brand’s parent company LVMH reported in its 2016 annual report that Fendi saw sales growth in China’s market. The two events may be correlated, but such correlation does not imply causation.
Mr. Bags’ recent collaboration with Givenchy is another interesting case. Turning WeChat into a social e-commerce site, Mr. Bags gave his followers access to buy his exclusive Valentine’s Day edition Givenchy “Mini Horizon” handbags. He reported that 80 handbags were sold out in 12 minutes, but it remains unknown if such an astonishing achievement can be completely credited to his influence or if it’s a result of “hunger marketing,” a promotional strategy used by brands to boost customers’ desire to buy their new products by limiting supply. This strategy has been frequently used by Chinese brands, such as tech company Xiaomi, and has proven successful in drumming up sales in the short term.
There is no doubt that Chinese fashion bloggers will continue to play a significant role in the luxury fashion industry. But one thing is clear: blogging is no longer a hobby for them. Apart from their large online following, they need to prove their real effectiveness and business value in the long run.
It’s relatively unique to be the former global executive creative director of an advertising agency (Wieden + Kennedy), turned president of brand creative for a major global retail group (Fast Retailing, owner of Uniqlo) – but that’s exactly what gives John C Jay, who also previously worked at Bloomingdale’s, such distinctive insight.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions International of Festivity last week, he shared some of his learnings on modern day communications in the fashion and retail space. Connecting to culture, choreographing physical spaces, launching collaborations, looking boldly to a future using data and technology, and underpinning it all with authenticity, were all referenced.
“Brands need to be worthy. We’re so busy today; there’s so much noise that no brand is going to be a part of your life if it’s not worthwhile,” was one of his key messages. Read on for the rest…
On connecting ideas to culture
“I focus not on campaigns, but connections,” Jay said with relation to finding the relevancy in local culture, or indeed current day pop culture, for any given brand he’s worked on. He emphasised how important it is to really do this properly. “Agencies are notorious for skimming the surface of culture: taking picture research of a neighborhood, sharing that in a conference room and feeling like they’ve tapped into [it],” he explained to the largely advertising crowd. “You’ve got to put the effort in and really really get to know the culture.”
On narrative spaces
This view of culture also carried over to the physical spaces a retailer owns. Jay explained how Uniqlo is turning its stores into rich playgrounds for cultural exchanges. Its latest London store has two floors dedicated to bringing the creative culture of the British capital to customers, for instance. “Agencies need to be choreographers for brands in physical spaces,” he explained in a call for the industry not just to focus on creating impacts via communications, but becoming designers of narrative in the retail environment. “This philosophy – collaboration with local communities – is more and more a part of our strategy going forward,” he added.
On valuable collaborations
“With our collaborations, we don’t choose by fame or how many hits [the individual] has, or friends they have; it’s really about values. It has to be true to them and true to us. We have to agree on what the values are. A lot of people we choose are not the most famous brands in the world,” Jay explained. Uniqlo has recently worked with graffiti artist Kaws, for instance, launching a line of t-shirts that Jay referred to as “extraordinary in terms of sales”. It has also had two very successful collections with Christophe Lemaire, former artistic director of Hermès. That partnership felt so true, Jay said, that they were “finishing each other’s sentences”. Lemaire has recently been announced as the new artistic director of Uniqlo’s R+D centre in Paris and the new Uniqlo U line, as a result.
On a tech-enabled future
Jay put any retail tech naysayers to rest with a bold statement on the importance of data and technology looking ahead. “Get on the boat or you’re never going to be a part of the future,” he said. “Data [particularly] is another way to be creative – it’s another way of finding insight. We have to adjust our mindsets to accepting there’s no foe part to it.” The new Uniqlo R+D centres will be very much dealing with technology, he added. “We’ll be looking at the issue of how to bring the physical and virtual together into one storytelling space.” A campaign run by Uniqlo in Australia called UMood, was also referenced. This neural project saw consumers wear a headset that could read their brain activity and help them choose suitable t-shirts as a result.
On authenticity at scale
Underpinning all of these lessons came authenticity. It’s this, said Jay, that has to be at the heart of everything a brand is trying to do, particularly when looking to growth. “I would argue that authenticity is the only way to scale, because brands will change and evolve, but [with authenticity] values will stay the same. It takes a lot of effort, but you just have to enjoy it.”
It might be an event dedicated to technologists first and foremost, but there’s no escaping the role of branding and marketing at SXSW Interactive these days, and the fashion industry has inserted itself well and truly as a relevant vertical within that.
From SXstyle to numerous off-schedule events, there were more dedicated fashion and retail-related panels than ever, not to mention numerous pop-up activations dedicated to the future of this area.
Whether you weren’t able to make it to Austin, or indeed were on the ground but overwhelmed by the madness (weren’t we all!), here’s a comprehensive round-up of everything that went on by way of the top stories to read. Note the absence of wearables this year by the way…
Why virtual reality and fashion make sense [WWD] – You’ll need a subscription to read this one, but it’s worthwhile. Highlighting that VR is as much of a fad as the internet and mobile phones, it outlines its suitability for the fashion industry in terms of marketing and e-commerce, because of its ability to create interactive, immersive experiences
A highlight keynote session at this year’s SXSW Interactive festival came from Under Armour CEO and founder, Kevin Plank. Inevitably well versed in how to play the media machine, this was one of the smoothest talks about brand building and transformation you’ll have ever seen.
“We went from being a products company to an ideas company,” he said as one of his opening gambits, and the reason why he predicts the business will grow from a $4 billion one today, to $7.5 billion by 2018. Connected fitness is a significant part of making that happen too.
Here are eight other quotable quotes you need to know from the hour-long interview:
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is everything. For us it’s the brand; the brand, the brand, the brand. No matter what we do it comes back to relying on the brand. And this begins with the founders; the core individuals who got our company going”
“Over promise and then deliver. We already slept yesterday. Today we work. It’s an attitude of saying we’re going to find a way. That attitude is extremely important for Under Armour”
“I like being defined as a performance company. It’s unlimiting. It’s an untethered approach to the way we’re seen”
“A brand is a story. It has a beginning, middle and an end. Every product we build is like a chapter, every athlete we sign and every interaction we have. All of them are a chapter in our brand story”
“Wherever we’re going is an evolution… we’re not limiting that to apparel or footwear, but to the idea that anywhere our logo shows up it has to be the best. It just has to be the best”
“Our belief is data is the new oil. You think it’s a coincidence Google or Amazon is who you’d bet on? 40% of their revenue is attributed to purchase history… The companies who will win are those using math.”
“I always have in red pen: ‘Don’t forget to sell shirts and shoes’. We take you up on the loop-de-loop but then take you out through the gift shop. It’s about not forgetting that we sell shirts and shoes”
“We’re in the first innings of this game. We are just getting going [with connected fitness]… Our aim is to give you something and make it so you couldn’t live without it after”