Jean therapy

Ok, I admit it. Occasionally I peruse Flare. It's research, after all. Recently, while thumbing through the September issue - to look at the ads of course - I came across a slender young woman, with long, flowing chestnut-coloured locks. She was lying on a beach in her low-rise jeans, which were suggestively caked with mud, as if she'd been rolling around in the sand. She wore a white blouse, barely buttoned, fully exposing her perfect, concave belly.

Ok, I admit it. Occasionally I peruse Flare. It’s research, after all. Recently, while thumbing through the September issue – to look at the ads of course – I came across a slender young woman, with long, flowing chestnut-coloured locks. She was lying on a beach in her low-rise jeans, which were suggestively caked with mud, as if she’d been rolling around in the sand. She wore a white blouse, barely buttoned, fully exposing her perfect, concave belly.

Turned some pages and saw a couple, strolling on a beach (how original!), with matching, daringly low, tie-up jeans, and open denim jackets, baring lots of skin. A barely there bikini top shrouded the gal’s breasts and her hair was loose and tousled, like bedhead. She also looked stoned, but that could have been unintentional.

Later on, I observed an olive-skinned female, with an ebony mane, gazing out from a cage. Stretched out on a bed of fur, her jeans are ripped at the thigh, and a wispy, lace-up corset clings to her torso.

Guess which ad is for which denim brand? As this issue’s ‘Denim Wars’ (see p. 4) indicates, consumers are being inundated with messaging from jeans manufacturers and retailers pushing their styles for fall. Sales of denim in this country continue to climb, and the competition is increasingly fierce. It’s getting to the point where marketers should strive to stand out in the marketplace like skin-tight, acid wash jeans in church, but instead many fall back to the banal, model-in-a-sexy-pose treatment, as in the case of the Polo Jeans, Guess and Parasuco executions mentioned above. (Kudos to anyone who guessed right.)

Like Chris Campbell, CD at Toronto consultancy Interbrand Tudhope points out, they are ‘all about sex, which is proven and it works.’ Only problem is, you could replace Parasuco with a Guess logo, and nobody would ever know the difference. ‘There’s not much of an idea behind it but sex and fantasy and beauty.’

In other words, if your jeans do stand for sex, fantasy and beauty, why bother? So do a zillion others. You’re being about as distinct as a diva dressed in black at a fashion party. In Parasuco’s case, the Montreal-based brand aims to provoke, and with some success; consumers have complained about its creative to Advertising Standards Canada twice in the last two years. But that’s not groundbreaking either. After all, wasn’t Calvin Klein all about controversy in the early 1990s? To activists, his ads bordered on child porn and certainly no other fashion marketer could achieve scandal in the same vein. (Although Benetton also went for shock value in the 1980s.)

Then there’s Diesel, which is sometimes contentious but actually carries a message (as Benetton did) – and an idea – within its advertising, i.e., its mockery of society. In fact, it often takes a satirical dig at the fashion industry itself. For instance, Diesel’s spring campaign, ‘Happy Valley,’ stars a terrifying clown-devil named Donald, who is clad in blood red, and sports a Joker-like smile and a lofty Mohawk. (He’s a figure that could frighten small children; hell, he scares the bejeezus out of me.)

Donald forces beautiful young things to fake bliss; for instance, in one ad they’re all decked out in denim, smiling brightly and holding hands in a field of wildflowers. In another execution, a couple enjoys a picnic, with Donald-branded fast food containers scattered everywhere. This type of politically loaded strategy seems to work for Diesel, which raked in $880 million worldwide last year. It’s also smack on target with the so-hip-it-hurts urban set.

Similarly, Levi’s, which has new spots from London, U.K.-based Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is trying to up the cool quotient; in its indie film-inspired commercials, a sexy bad girl – Mexican actress Gael Garcia Bernal – steals a car. Time will tell how this effort impacts Levi Strauss’s bottom line, but with everyone courting youth, perhaps there is an opportunity to capture the fancy of neglected demographics.

Men, for instance, might respond to the concept that Levi’s is an original American label. As Campbell suggests, nobody has that message in the marketplace and Levi’s can own it.

And while society is obsessed with all things under 25, a super skinny gal in a suggestive stance may not speak to an older demographic, like for instance, those who purchase jeans at mass merchandisers Zellers, Sears and Wal-Mart. (Currently the three retailers’ private label denim brands fly off the shelves faster than any others in Canada.) Media has become so oversaturated with typical provocative imagery from fashion, that it may stop resonating with consumers altogether. (One can only hope.)

Speaking of youthful obsessions, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble recently introduced Crest Rejuvenating Effects south of the border, a toothpaste designed for women 30-44 (See ‘What were they thinking?,’ p. 8.). Advertising for the product, starring Miss America-cum-actress Vanessa Williams, asks, ‘Who says you can’t have an ageless smile?’

Of course, I always thought your teeth eventually fell out, but that’s just me. And while I have laugh lines I didn’t notice in my 20s, my pearly whites, thankfully, remain unaltered. Which brings me to this question: Who says consumers will believe a toothpaste can help them maintain young-looking teeth? P&G might want to rethink this strategy. After all, if the public begins questioning bizarre age-fighting claims in toothpaste, the anti-wrinkle cream assertions, like those for Olay, could get on their radar screens, too.

Gotta run now. Need new jeans. Want Diesels.

Lisa D’Innocenzo

News Editor