Friday Column | Shockvertising

American Apparel ad featuring Woody Allen, courtesy of Curbed

American Apparel ad

LONDON, United Kingdom Here’s a depressing sign of things to come. According to Luxury Briefing, Trendhunter has deemed “Shockvertising” a key trend for 2009.

What’s Shockvertising? Advertising that borders on porn. Yes, you can blame the credit crunch. If consumers won’t be lured be grace and beauty, well let’s give them smut and see if that works.

And it could work. Just look at the success of American Apparel. The clothes aren’t much different from what you’d find at Primark, Wal-Mart or Uniqlo (although they’re made in the U.S.) but the ads featuring scantily clad teens and notable public figures like Woody Allen have attracted the attention of consumers. Allen himself is none too pleased to be a billboard for the brand. He’s launched a lawsuit against the company saying that it used his face in an ad without his permission, or any remuneration, and that it is damaging to his reputation.

American Apparel is defending the move by saying his image ain’t what it used to be thanks to his marriage to his step-daughter, Soon Yi. That scandal may have wounded his reputation in intellectual circles, but clearly made him all the more appealing in others, like those American Apparel’s founder Dov Charney runs in. Neither this lawsuit, or the continual cloud of scandal that surrounds Dev was enough to dissuade Lion Capital, former owners of Jimmy Choo, from injecting $80 million in the brand to solve its ongoing cash flow and financial issues.

Personally there’s nothing that would make me want to shop at a place less that seeing giant photographs of scantily clad teenagersor Woody Allenhanging outside it. But let’s face it, I’m not the target audience they’re after.

Luxury marketers seem to agree with me. According to Trendhunter, they’re taking the opposite tack and focusing on boring old things like service and product and trying to appeal to the “old money” ethos.

Which will work better? Who know’s? But here’s a fun recession game: The next time you’re paging through Vogue, rip out all the ads and make two stacks: Smut vs Old Money. Put them aside and wait for the recession to pass. Then pull them out and see how many of the brands in each stack are still around. I know which side I want to win, but I have no confidence that it will.

Other shockvertising campaigns that have made headlines…

Lauren Goldstein Crowe is co-author of a book on Jimmy Choo to be published by Bloomsbury.

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3 comments

  1. How is what American Apparel does in its ads any different than what Calvin Klein was doing in the ’90s. Couldn’t “shockvertising” just be another load of marketing bs? It sounds to me that advertisers are simply treating the American consumer similarly to the European consumer by offering up more risqué campaigns.

  2. Shockvertising is nothing new. I can take the example of United Colors of Benetton when Oliviero Toscani photographed for the company. Though I don’t know how well seeing a photo of a man dying of AIDS is conducive into buying any clothing, it’s become sort of iconic.

    If fashion brands will resort to innovative advertising, they might want to take a cue from the brightest graphic design agencies for something truly original.

    Dahlia from Montreal, QC, Canada
  3. I agree with Lauren, and I’d like to take it a step further. How is the photo of the Woody Allen billboard an example of shockvertising? If anything it was an intellectual step up for the company – a statement about scandal and judging.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that. They’ve pretty much maintained that the whole time.

    Ads that make people talk – rather than shock – are a good thing. The Woody one fits that bill in my opinion.

    Ollie from Palmdale, CA, United States