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Looking back at SXSW: wearables, privacy and avoiding bandwagons

14 Mar

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion 

Rachel Arthur recaps the highlights of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference and identifies key takeaways for the fashion industry.

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AUSTIN, United States — The marketing and tech crowd hit Austin, Texas, once again this week for the annual SXSW Interactive conference, bringing with them more members of the fashion industry than ever before. There were representatives from long-time attendees like Burberry and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside a flurry of first timers from Parisian fashion houses and UK department stores alike, a sure sign of technology’s increasingly pervasive impact on fashion retail.

Thought of as an incubator for tech-enabled creativity which aims to provide a “view on the future,” the annual event is overloaded with keynotes, panel discussions and pop-up events, not to mention a trade show floor. But, as usual, much of the action also happened off-piste, in spontaneous conversations at hundreds of events and parties.

Here, we’ve compiled some key takeaways, on themes ranging from wearable technology to consumer privacy.

The State of Wearables

It was clear wearables — an emerging category of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology (such as Nike’s FuelBand, Google Glass and Apple’s rumoured iWatch) — were going to be a key topic even before SXSW began. They’d dominated the scene at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January and over 60 sessions addressed the topic, up from a mere handful last year.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the category is advancing rapidly. American basketball star Shaquille O’Neal even made an appearance to discuss his new interest in wearable technology with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm. Yet despite predictions that the market for wearables could reach $30-$50 billion over the next 3 to 5 years, the growing consensus was that mass adoption was still a ways off. On Google Glass, Robert Scoble (author and startup liason officer of Rackspace) said: “This is one of those products you know is the future, but it’s so unfinished at this point that it’s frustrating. It’s three to five years away before it’s really useful.”

And indeed, it was the word ‘useful,’ more than design or aesthetics — which the current crop of wearables are widely thought to lack — that came up the most. Jennifer Darmour, user experience design director at Artefact, said she has a drawer full of wearables that she had worn for just a week or two each before abandoning them. There was too much focus on novelty, she said, rather than on creating real functional value. “We’ve been taking a technology and trying to find a problem for that technology, instead of the other way round,” she added. “We need a more human-centric approach.”

Q Manning, chief executive of app design company Rocksauce Studios, agreed: “We need to solve problems. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to pinpoint will this actually be useful? Is it beneficial? Will it help me live my life better?”

Jay Morgan, digital creative director of Havas Worldwide, added: “When wearable tech becomes [part of our] normal clothes and we don’t have to [actively] interact with it, it’s not then going to be about whether people care about it, it’s just going to be a part of your life. That’s what brands need to think about it now.”

Managing Privacy

Privacy was another key topic at SXSW this year, perhaps unsurprisingly as whistleblower Edward Snowden gave one of the headline talks. Appearing via Google Hangout from an undisclosed location in Russia, Snowden called on the technology community to help protect privacy rights by building them into technical standards. “There is a policy response that needs to occur, but there is also a technical response that needs to occur,” he said. “It is the development community that can really craft the solutions and make sure we are safe.”

Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “I really think that consumers need to rethink their relationship with many of the companies to whom they entrust their private data. I really think what this comes down to is if you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t going to be optimising your experience with your best interests in mind.”

While Soghoian was referring to Internet services like Facebook, the issue of consumer privacy should be of concern to retailers as well, as they increasingly collect and leverage personal data.

“The bottom line is data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent,” said Snowden. “If data is being clandestinely acquired and the public doesn’t have any way to review it and it is not legislatively authorised, it is not reviewed by courts, it is not consonant with our constitution — that is a problem.”

For others, the issue of privacy and personal data was seen in the context of a value exchange, with consumers increasingly willing to reveal information in return for benefit. “The more utility you get, the more you’re going to have to give away your privacy,” said Scoble, adding he’d happily do so himself in return for more useful and personalised experiences. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, agreed: “I’m excited about data being about me. The marketer gets a certain amount of value in the stats on my demographic, but the real value is for me.”

Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, said the way forward was giving consumers control of their data. “We are now developing technologies to give people control over who manages their data and how. We are ensuring privacy, so it will be very easy and very comfortable for them to give their data over and get something out of it.”

Avoiding Bandwagons

Elsewhere at SXSW, conversation swirled around everything from “embeddables” (technology emebedded in the world around us, such that “virtually any human activity we can think of is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously,” according to one panel) to bioengineering. But ultimately, “good technology is no excuse for a bad idea,” said Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder and editorial director of marketing consultancy and magazine, Contagious. “It’s easy to jump onto bandwagons just because a new technology looks cool. Everyone enjoys feeling like that little kid chasing after the bright, shiny tool in the distance. But in this age of service design and living data, if a marketing idea is not useful, relevant or entertaining, then really there’s very little point in letting it loose on the world.”

Kristina Simmons, a partner at leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, agreed. Wearable technology, for example, should not be a priority just because everyone is talking about it. “It needs to be something that makes sense for your business. It’s about thinking about your top five priorities, versus saying I want to do something with wearables.”

“Innovation isn’t just giant leaps and bounds and the sexy stuff — it’s also about the basics and thinking about how we do things better. Incremental changes can make a big difference too,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs.

“Being first has always been a big thing,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s head of creative partnerships. “But the future is here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”

Digital snippets: H&M, Instagram, Uniqlo, Ferragamo, Urban Outfitters, Nike

6 Jan

Happy new year all and welcome to 2014!

It’s straight to Vegas for me and headfirst into CES for what’s looking set to be a week heavy on the wearables front. More of that to follow, but for now, here’s a highlight of some of the fashion and tech stories you may have missed over the past couple of weeks…

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  • H&M and Beckham return to The Super Bowl with ground-breaking shoppable TV ad campaign [WGSN]
  • Instagram reveals ‘promising’ results of Levi’s and Ben & Jerry’s ad trial [Marketing Magazine]
  • Ferragamo weaves founder’s history into fairy tale film [Luxury Daily]
  • Nike, MTV are top global brands on Instagram in 2013 [BrandChannel]
  • How in-store analytics is changing the way you shop [Fashionista]
  • Beacons: What they are, how they work, and why Apple’s iBeacon technology is ahead of the pack [Business Insider]
  • What fashion adds to the tech world: Vanessa Friedman on wearables [FT]
  • Smart eyelashes and fingernails: the next wave of wearable tech [Mashable]
  • Can Apple’s Angela Agrendts spark a retail revolution? [Fast Company]

Digital snippets: Selfridges, Prada, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Asos, Lancôme, Valentino

24 Nov

A highlight of the top stories surrounding all things fashion and digital of late: 

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  • Drive-through Dior? Coming right up at Selfridges London [CN Traveler
  • Wes Anderson debuts latest Prada feature [Fashionotes
  • Victoria’s Secret creates 3D-printed angel wings for fashion models [Huffington Post
  • Gap rolls out “reserve in store” service [CNBC
  • Valentino jumps in on China’s high-tech runway revolution [JingDaily
  • Under Armour looks to take a bite out of FuelBand success with MapMyFitness acquisition [BrandChannel
  • Pinterest opens API to retail partners [TechCrunch
  • Google’s Eric Schmidt invests in retail tech designed to help personalisation and data measurement [WWD
  • Here’s why ‘The Internet of Things’ will be huge, and drive tremendous value for people and businesses [Business Insider
  • Why companies desperately need to make wearables cool [Wired
  • How brands get shoppers to volunteer their personal data: transparency and better experiences [PSFK
  • Social media drives less than 1% of shopping sessions, study says [Fashionista
  • Fashion retailers are still failing to optimise email marketing for mobile [Econsultancy
  • What retailers can learn from mobile commerce in the UK [Shop.org
  • 15 stats that show why click-and-collect is so important for retailers [Econsultancy

Note: Look out for a separate holiday-specific digital round-up later this week, featuring all the top retail campaign stories as well as insights into the biggest innovations being pushed for the festive season. 

Oscar de la Renta campaign launches exclusively over Instagram

25 Jul oscar_banner

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According to L2 Think Tank, Instagram registers the highest level of consumer engagement and interaction across all social media platforms. Needless to say, brands are capitalising on that – and none more so than Oscar de la Renta this week, who released its autumn/winter 2013/14 campaign exclusively via its OscarPRGirl account

Those images – as featured below – are also accompanied by an e-commerce tie-in on Oscardelarenta.com, where the full corresponding collection is available for pre-order, ranging from $110 costume jewellery to gowns at nearly $14,000.

According to Oscar CEO, Alex Bolen, the initiative has the promise of being “extremely measurable”, reports WWD. The brand will be able to see how successful it is by tracking the amount of clicks to its website, not to mention preorder sales in real-time.

“Forgetting that it’s via a fairly new distribution mode, this is about creative working harder for us,” Bolen said. “That’s forever been a challenge for people in our business. We’re always reviewing our print buys. We’re constantly trying to figure out ways to better measure the return that we’re getting on our investment… We will book more resources [to digital programs] if it works well, and less behind those that work less well.”

The campaign was shot by Norman Jean Roy and styled by Alex White, with make-up and hair by Gucci Westman and Orlando Pita. The models are Kate Bogucharskaia, Patricija Motiejunaite and Iris Van Berne.

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Cannes Lions 2013 round-up: fashion and beauty winners

11 Jul CannesLions2013_flags

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It was a big year for fashion at the 60th annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – the ad industry’s version of the Oscars if you will. As already reported, Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Annie Leibovitz were all on stage, as was Justin Cooke, CMO of Topshop (as pictured), in a guest appearance during YouTube’s slot.

He talked to the idea of emotion in marketing: “When people feel happy, they want to influence others to do the same. At Topshop we refer to the three I’s; ignite a conversation, inspire our customers and then use that influence to build our UK-centric brand into a global entity.”

Topshop walked away with a bronze Media Lion for best use of social media for its Future of the Fashion Show campaign in February.

Here are some of the other fashion and beauty campaigns that won:

Dove Real Beauty Sketches: No surprise here – this campaign picked up the Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes as well as gold Lions in nearly every other category. Created by Ogilvy Brasil, it aimed to prove to women they’re more beautiful than they think they are by conducting a social experiment whereby an FBI-trained sketch artist drew their portraits based first on their own descriptions and then a stranger’s. The resulting film, which captures their reactions to the sketches, racked up over 4.5bn social media impressions. Dove also won a gold in the Film category for its Camera Shy campaign.

Nike Find Your Greatness: Always a big winner at Cannes, this year was no exception for Nike. It won a silver in the Titanium category for its Find Your Greatness campaign that surrounded last year’s Olympics. Ambush marketing at its finest (given Nike wasn’t an official sponsor), it highlighted that greatness isn’t reserved for just the elite athletes participating in the big event in the chosen city, but can be found worldwide – importantly in all the other places around the world also called London. Nike also won a silver for its Jogger campaign, and bronzes for She Runs the Night and Voices.

adidas Window Shopping: Not to be outdone, adidas also walked away with an armful of awards, this time for its adidas Neo Window Shopping initiative created by TBWA Helsinki. This saw a fully functional virtual store accessible from on the street by combining windows with the brand’s already existing e-commerce. Users could connect their smartphones via a simple URL and a pin (no need for an app or QR codes here), and then interact with the products on screen, dragging them into a shopping bag to make them appear on their own device to buy. It won both gold and silver Cyber Lions, as well as three bronzes in the Media and Mobile categories.

Macy’s Yes, Virginia the Musical: Macy’s localised its long-standing Yes, Virginia campaign in 2012 with a musical for schools in the busy run-up to the Christmas period. That initiative, created by JWT New York, saw it winning both a gold and a silver Lion in the Branded Content and Entertainment category.

Uniqlo Storms Pinterest: A smart move by Uniqlo over Pinterest also scooped a gold Lion in the Design category at Cannes this year. To promote its new Dry Mesh T-Shirts the Japanese retailer, along with Firstborn New York, created an impossible-to-miss, branded mosaic on the virtual scrapbooking site. As users scrolled through Pinterest’s public feeds giant blocks of branded images appeared and seemed to animate. It was done using 100 shell accounts on the platform that were later switched to branded Uniqlo ones. Uniqlo also won a bronze Media Lion for its Wake Up campaign.

Kmart Ship my Pants: You may have spotted this one already – Kmart’s humourous new video ad that plays on the phrase “Ship my Pants” to tout its new free shipping service. A winner for me on element of surprise alone, and at Cannes with silvers and bronzes in both the Film and Promo & Activation categories.

Geox Amphibox: Geox’s campaign for its everyday waterproof shoe walked away with gold, silver and bronze awards in the Cyber category as well as a bronze in Media. The aim was to prove the performance qualities of the shoes, so the team took four Facebook fans to the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunjee in India (which receives 11.7m of annual rainfall) to put them to the test. An online interactive documentary resulted.

Asos #bestnightever: I’ve commented a lot on shoppable films in the past, but there’s no escaping the fact they’re slowly making an increasing impact in the advertising space. Asos won a silver Media Lion on that basis this year for its #bestnightever campaign (even if the stats that went alongside aren’t necessarily directly the result of it to be honest), which saw three shoppable music videos created.

Bronze awards otherwise went to:

  • Louis Vuitton in Film for its Core Values campaign starring Muhammad Ali
  • Converse in Outdoor for its Highways campaign

And here’s a particularly nice message from Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry, to close: “You have to take a leap of faith to move into a world that your industry or sector is not used to, but if you believe in it, and can feel it, it will be stronger and more believable in itself.”

Burberry campaign offers first glimpse of fashion presence at Cannes Lions

16 Jun cannes_banner

Burberry Kisses - World of Kisses

As you’ll have likely already seen, Burberry launched its new Kisses campaign in partnership with Google late last week, offering consumers the ability to capture their real kisses and share them with loved ones around the world via digital. That initiative was part of the British heritage brand’s Art, Copy & Code tie up with Google that is due to be showcased at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, otherwise known as advertising’s biggest global awards – in the South of France this week.

As previously posted, but worth reiterating here, Burberry CCO Christopher Bailey is due to take to the stage on Friday (the festival runs from June 16 – 22) to talk about “digital’s creative revolution” with Google’s head of marketing, Lorraine Twohill.

The write-up for the session adds: “How do you engage your audience when ad views are voluntary? What happens when the physical and digital worlds intersect? How can data enable creativity? What if ads didn’t have to look or feel like ads? The only way to find the answers is through risk taking and experimentation.” There’s no denying Burberry Kisses ticks off all of that criteria.

Two years ago I wrote this article about the significant lack of fashion presence throughout Cannes. It focused on the fact that fashion communications remained largely about print ads selling product over campaigns selling ideas, a viewpoint I still hold at large, but certainly one that is beginning to shift – as proven by Burberry. In doing so, it’s sparking more relevance than ever for these brands to start making an appearance at Cannes, both on the delegates list and in those nominated for awards.

Elsewhere at Cannes therefore are other fashion types in attendance too – Vivienne Westwood speaking with SapientNitro to “de-construct the narrative behind some of the most innovative stories of all-time”, and photographer Annie Leibovitz as part of a panel discussing the “genesis, evolution and continued success of the global ‘Disney Dream Portraits Series’.”

I’m down here already and will be covering throughout, as well as live tweeting via my personal account, so do follow along.

Social media for fashion: top 10 trends

29 May Topshop_headline

Keen to learn more on social media as it pertains to the fashion industry? I’m presenting a webinar tomorrow (Thursday, May 30) via WGSN that explores how leading brands in our industry are integrating multiple social media platforms into a cohesive marketing strategy.

Among the topics are:

• How are brands using storytelling to create engagement and connection?
• What role does film and video content play in a multiplatform marketing world?
• How are brands using data personalisation to deliver relevant content to the right audience in real time?
• How is crowdsourcing being used to co-create content?
• What’s the role of humour in marketing fashion brands?

Do tune in. It’s taking place at 5pm BST / 12pm EST. More details and sign-up here: http://bit.ly/17ZSLh9

On your reading list: Influencer Marketing

18 Apr Menkes_CircusofFashion_banner

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If you’re anything like me you constantly have a backlog of links saved in a ‘to read’ folder in your inbox, in an app on your iPhone and in a variety of reader tools on your web browser. I even have word documents with multiples of them pasted in for when I can’t get online during a flight, and numerous printouts just in case I get caught out some other how and can use the time to finally catch-up with what’s going on in this ever-evolving world.

The good news is I just had a great occasion all to myself to do so (namely a long haul journey during waking hours). While you likely won’t appreciate me adding to your own reading list, there’s a couple I had to share on the off-chance you haven’t yet got to them yourself. The first is this story on dispensing with the division of church and state, or editorial and advertising in the fashion media business, written by Jeremy Langmead of Mr Porter in a guest post for The Business of Fashion. This one on Facebook’s shifting marketing strategy – a mega read from Vanity Fair – is another example.

But if I can implore you to read any, it’s this one about influencer marketing by Macala Wright, published on PSFK in March. The title reads: “Why influencer marketing is failing in retail”, which is actually a little misleading. This piece isn’t so much of a downer on why the retail industry isn’t nailing its strategic partnerships with today’s bloggers, but a fabulous insight into how to go about getting it right for your brand specifically.

It was written soon after Suzy Menkes’ piece on The Circus of Fashion Week – a story that sparked a boatload of comment from other heavyweights in the space. But it takes a more strategic route, stepping beyond debates on ‘gifting’ for instance, and looking directly at “redefining and compartmentalising how to leverage influencers in long-term brand and marketing strategies”.  It points out basic, but all-important arguments on quality (smaller people or influencers with cult followers) versus quantity (number of followers, views, and impressions), and rounds-up with nine key points to consider for success.

Check them out here: Why influencer marketing is failing in retail

Alice + Olivia, Topshop kickstart prom season with online push

31 Mar Topshop_prom

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A number of designers and retailers are reaching out to teens through a variety of online initiatives in the build-up to the forthcoming prom season.

Alice + Olivia is one such example; utilising social media to do so. The brand’s designer and founder Stacey Bendet is hosting a live Twitter chat on Tuesday, April 2 at 3pm EST. She will be answering questions and giving styling tips to help shoppers achieve the “perfect prom look”.

Users can submit questions via the hashtag #askstace.

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Topshop is also looking to prom with a series of store events held in specific cities during March (three in the US and five in the UK), and a collection of dresses, accessories and shoes inspired by a touch of Kurt Cobain grunge.

All of that is tied together with online content including the below film from director Sean Frank. Referred to as a “vintage-inspired ride in getting prom perfect”, the clip is cast with a filtered light as the model is seen getting ready for the evening, dancing under a disco ball and ending up jumping in the swimming pool.

The British-based high street retailer has slowly been upping its focus on more holiday-based marketing – pushing out relevant collections around the likes of Halloween, holiday and Chinese New Year with dedicated campaigns. Doing so is of course further cementing its presence in the US market especially. Expect more to follow.

3.1 Philip Lim turns to “Trickers” for SS13 menswear video

4 Jan 31-phillip-lim-ss13-trickers

 

3.1 Phillip Lim has proved an early addition to the onslaught of spring/summer 2013 campaign videos, with a beautiful spot for its menswear line that demonstrates martial arts tricking.

Shot by photographer Jacob Sutton, the film features real-life trickers Jason Mello and Micah Karns in action. As described by the Huffington Post, tricking is “a real-time, pan-athletic forum between floor gymnastics and martial arts skill, and extreme sports showmanship”.

It continues: “It’s like parkour without the cityscape, or half-pipe skateboarding without the board (or the pipe, for that matter). In tricking, the emphasis is on motion and creativity — and the more emphatically they’re delivered, the better.”

What better way to show off a new collection?

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