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Why Brands Cast Older Celebrities to Court Younger Consumers

J.Crew is the latest brand to tap older stars including Julianne Moore and Diane Keaton for its campaign even as it strives to win over Gen-Z. Will the strategy work?
Diane Keaton is one of the stars of J.Crew's "Heritage Made Modern" campaign.
Diane Keaton is one of the stars of J.Crew's "Heritage Made Modern" campaign. (Courtesy)
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For J.Crew to pull off its brand revival, it needs to attract new, younger customers.

Why, then, did the retailer cast 45-year-old “Yellowjackets” star Melanie Lynskey, 61-year-old actress Julianne Moore and 76-year-old Diane Keaton, the patron saint of the coastal grandma aesthetic, in its latest celebrity campaign?

“The core idea of this campaign is this lens of heritage made modern,” said Derek Yarbrough, J.Crew’s chief marketing officer. “We said, ‘Okay, let’s extend the campaign with a social-first push using these iconic women who represent a classic remix.’”

The hope was not to appeal to a wider age demographic, Yarbrough said, but rather that these women would resonate across age groups because they embodied the idea of being “classic but in this fresh and modern way.” The campaign is also a sign to customers that J.Crew is bringing back the classics that made it a success in the 1990s and aughts: oxford shirts, knit pullovers and classic trousers.

J.Crew is hardly the first brand to tap ambassadors across age groups over the years. Coach’s ambassador roster stretches from 23-year-old Lil Nas X to 53-year-old Jennifer Lopez. Farfetch tapped 66-year-old “Sex and the City” star Kim Cattrall for a campaign earlier this year. In 2017, Covergirl signed the then 69-year-old Maye Musk (mother of Elon) as a face of the brand, while Celine put the late writer Joan Didion, then 81, in an ad in 2015. Even J.Crew has employed the tactic in the past: back in 2010, it featured the then-68-year-old Lauren Hutton in a campaign, and last fall, 49-year-old Tracee Ellis Ross appeared in ads for the retailer.

Early signs are promising: the post featuring Keaton received over 18,000 likes, while Lynskey’s got over 5,000 and Moore’s over 8,000. A typical post on the brand’s feed will typically earn less than 2,000. Posts featuring Kim Cattrall on Farfetch’s Instagram performed similarly well, while Celine’s ad featuring Didion remains a fashion industry favourite.

Brands do this not just to showcase multi-generational appeal, but also to give themselves an aspirational bent. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be as chic as Diane Keaton at 76? There’s a prestige that these women exude because they have reached true pop culture “icon” status. It’s also a surprise and a delight, to use a marketer-favourite term, when consumers see older celebrities cast in ads, because brands typically feature much younger models, marketing experts say.

J.Crew’s new campaign, dubbed “Heritage Made Modern,” has already garnered online chatter that mirrors the buzz the brand is seeing at large. Following years of decline marked by complaints of lessening quality and endless promotions that culminated in a 2020 bankruptcy filing, the retailer is experiencing a momentum it hasn’t seen in years. That’s due in part to its new designers, head of menswear Brendon Babenzien, the founder of streetwear brand Noah, and head of womenswear, Olympia Gayot, who pared back the fashion-forward style of her predecessor Jenna Lyons with more tried-and-true J.Crew basics like button-down shirts, cashmere sweaters and slip dresses. For years, consumers longed for this exact “old J.Crew.”

The Diane Keaton campaign is another attempt to win back the consumers that J.Crew had lost in the 2010s.

“It was kind of an evolve or die kind of moment for them,” said Lily Olsson, strategy director at Landor & Fitch. “The strategy of stepping out of that fast fashion race, and taking a step back into classic pieces that are part of the capsule that build up that core closet for consumers is really interesting.”

A Twist on Classics

Yarborough said that the idea behind the casting these women in its fall campaign wasn’t to appeal to a specific demographic, but rather widely drawn in consumers who share a similar mindset.

“J.Crew is a large brand that broadly represents aspirational American style,” said Yarborough. “So from that lens, we really welcome everyone into that.”

With that, there is age diversity throughout the campaign: “Stranger Things” star Sadie Sink (age 20), “Bridgerton” actress Simone Ashley (age 27) and comedian Ayo Edebiri (age 27) are also featured. Engagement wise, Sink’s post has been the best received with over 27,000 likes.

Mixing the young stars of some of TV’s most talked-about programmes with longtime icons like Moore and Keaton, the latter of which has been synonymous with fashion trendsetting since the ‘70s, is, in a way, the casting equivalent of mixing modern with heritage, according to Yarborough.

It’s a way for the brand to signal that it’s returned to “timeless” pieces, by tapping “timeless” women to wear them.

“They’re featuring relevant cultural icons and people who are known for their classic style,” said Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail consultancy A Line Partners. “It’s a great way to get the word out again about their brand.”

It’s not just a matter of casting older stars, however. The new ambassadors all have a special appeal to Gen-Z consumers and modern pop culture at large. Lynskey hit a new stride thanks to the critical and commercial success of her show “Yellowjackets.” On TikTok, Keaton, star of the 2003 Nancy Meyers film “Something’s Gotta Give,” has become synonymous with the “coastal grandmother” aesthetic, a type of dressing that involves a lot of linen and stripes, which went viral on the platform this past summer.

“I don’t think it’s them necessarily using a boomer to appeal to the boomer market,” said Olsson. “[These women] are never chasing other people’s idea of what’s cool or aspirational. They have this inner style and confidence, that’s what’s appealing to this consumer.”

With the “Heritage Made Modern” campaign, the brand is simultaneously trying to remind consumers of its past while embracing the present.

Recent TikTok videos instruct viewers on how to recreate 90s J.Crew catalogue looks with pieces from its current collection. Yarborough said that with J.Crew’s 40th anniversary on the horizon in 2023, it feels like an apt moment to lean into the brand’s history.

Of course, history alone can’t carry a brand into the future. And like Gayot and Babenzien’s designs, the campaign gives people a new reason to be excited about the brand.

“Diane wears J.Crew?” one commenter wrote underneath Keaton’s sponsored J.Crew post on Instagram. “Get me to a store ASAP!”

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