There has been much debate within the fashion industry about what kind of branding strategy to pursue. With the increasing democratization of fashion ushered in by globalization fashion designers have been able to create and/or transform their labels to have a strong and strategic world-wide presence. The two main schools of thought within branding strategies are globalization and adaptation. Thus a fashion company must traverse the terrain and select which strategy suits the company’s policies, aims and mission.
Theodore Levitt launched the globalization debate in 1983 with his seminal essay in the Harvard Business Review ‘The Globalization of Markets” arguing that communication, transportation and travel created a new commercial reality where corporations did not cater to local differences in taste. He believed that the world, its various cultures and borders, were uniting, which resulted in the dissolution of multinational corporations, and the rise and domination of global corporations (Levitt, 1983). There have been many supporters toward this faction of thinking which include Elinder (1965), Fatt (1967), Buzzell (1968) and Dunne (1976) whom feel, as with Levitt that the globalization of markets has come about because of advances in transportation, and most importantly technology. This strategy believes that one marketing campaign can be used and translated to its customers world-wide, and is adequate for their purposes. Standardization also assumes that their target customer is completely homogenous and should be pursued in the same manner.
The adaptation strategy and its supporters on the other hand, believe that the market and its customers are heterogeneous. The followers of adaption namely Anholt (2000), Kanso and Nelson (2002) and Kotler (1986), argue that marketers and branding professionals need to consider difference in economics, cultures, competition, technology, sociology, physicality, politics, infrastructure; as well as the level of customer similarity (Vrontis, 2003). This strategy is clearly opposite to that of standardization. What the managers of companies need to decide early on is, which strategy they will adopt acknowledging that both factions has positive and negative points. Another approach that is widely exploited is that of a hybrid, adopting certain aspects of each strategy to obtain the greatest advantage whilst negating the negatives. This strategy is promoted by many since the late nineteen eighties namely Vrontis and Vronti, (2004), Kotler et al., (1996), as well as Douglas and Wind (1987),
With an abundance of strategies to choose from and the swift pace of the global fashion industry, which is becoming more competitive every day, it is of utmost importance to have a clear message and brand identity to launch to the fashion world. Using Marc Jacobs as a case study, this paper will investigate his labels approach to marketing and branding within the United Kingdom and the United States to demonstrate how Marc Jacobs uses standardization. This approach is illuminated through his product ranges, advertising, shop decoration, and marketing, which have been inherent since the beginning of the branding process. To keep up in today’s ever changing industry, fashion labels like Marc Jacobs, need to be highly differiented, customer-oriented, constantly innovative and create effective powerful brands (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000).
Marc Jacobs has executed what Aaker and Joachimsthaler (2000) set out with sheer precision. Since graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1984, where Marc Jacobs won two Golden Thimble Awards, he has had a loyal following both with the media and customers alike who have backed him through his many ventures. His clothes have been described as uptown, downtown – and all around, chic eccentricity, edgy and chic, friendly downtown cool as well as breezy and discreet luxury (Foley, 2004 and Cohen, 2001). Jacobs has an innate perception of how women and men want to dress each season; a sense of the past and how the passage of time changes the definition of beauty and glamour (Shaw, 1993). Having his finger on the zeitgeist each season, year after year, has made his name synonymous with retro-chic cool urbanites and celebrities.
On the one hand, Marc Jacobs, the person, his personality, are what his customers are buying into and what is being marketed. On the other, it is his association as head designer for ready-to-wear at Louis Vuitton and how he has transformed that company. This position propelled him to global fashion stardom making him a household name. His characteristics of charming, spirited, cool, arty, high, low and edgy all describe his designs (Aaker, 1996) and his customers are buying into this personality and identity mix. This blend extends to the way Marc Jacobs dresses himself, and as an extension his clientele. “I buy very expensive clothes and very inexpensive clothes. People do not dress in designer clothes from head to toe. They may wear a $40 shirt with $600 shoes. That’s the way we’ve always shown the collection (Shaw, 1993).” This is how their younger, arty and celebrity customer dresses. They wear clothes that can traverse the polished sophistication of uptown and the edgy, hip, distressed chic of downtown.
“Brand personality can help by enriching… perceptions of and attributes toward the brand, contributing to a differentiating brand identity, guiding the communication effort and creating brand equity (Aaker, 1996, p.150)”. The brand personality, and its personality traits, are also created by various marketing variables such as user imagery, advertising style, packaging and logo, price, and product-related attributes (Levy 1959, Plummer 1985, Batra, Lehmann, and Singh 1993). All of which are extremely important to the Marc Jacobs branded image and lifestyle that is standardized in both the UK and USA.
Though Marc Jacobs brand identity and marketing is driven by his own personality and has been a chosen strategy, there are negative’s to this approach. In this case, the personality is living and has their own life, which changes and acquires a dimension and symbolism, which may not always correspond with the brand’s strategic interests (Kapferer, 1997). For instance, it is commonly known that Marc Jacobs has been battling drug addiction for many years and has had a recent bought in a rehabilitation facility. This episode does not seem to have affected the brand’s image and personality, though it is a caution for adopting this strategy; especially with a personality that is in the public eye and imagination.
Jacobs’s success has earned him five designer of the year awards in women’s wear, men’s wear and accessory design by the Council of Fashion Designers of America throughout the last fifteen years. These prestigious awards have assisted in leveraging his brand, which is worth 5 billion dollars according to Fortune magazine (Borden, 2007) and enabled Jacobs to expand the company. What has also assisted Jacobs and his business partner Robert Duffy’s vision to build the brand architecture, is the stake that Moët-Hennessy-Louis-Vuitton (LVMH) owns, which is 96% of Marc Jacobs International L.P. but only 33% of trademarks, meaning that LVMH has power over the money, but Jacobs has creative control. With the backing of LVMH using brand architecture as an organizing structure of the brand portfolio, which gives specific roles and relationships to various products has become a reality (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000). The Marc Jacobs brand portfolio has grown immensely since he first started the company with Duffy in 1993.
That year saw the launch of his women’s collection and in 1995 the first full men’s collection was introduced. Expanding into the men’s market assisted in leveraging the brand assets, creating a synergy by generating brand exposures and more associations in different contexts (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000 and Kapferer, 1997). These two Marc Jacobs collection lines are the strategic brand as they represent the majority of sales and have become the driver role for other extensions and ranges within the portfolio (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000 and Kapferer, 1997). The women’s and men’s collection have thus expanded to include footwear, bags, eyewear and fragrance creating new line extensions in other product classes which is the ultimate way to leverage the brand (Aaker, 1996). The collection line extensions or sub-brands expands the user base, provides variety for the customer that would like to buy into a total image or lifestyle, energizes the brand as well as manages innovation within the brand (Aaker, 1996).
Jacobs’s accessories and his fragrances for both men and women have become his cash cows. The cash cow has a significant customer base and its role is to generate margin resources that can then be invested back into other brands and extensions (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000). Utilizing this strategic approach assists customers who cannot afford the collection but can buy into the brand, starting with a perfume or a handbag in hopes of one day being able to purchase a variety of clothes and other product offerings. Cash cow roles help to build up the brand portfolio as well as create customer loyalty.
With the success of his main collection line, Marc Jacobs launched Marc by Marc Jacobs (in 2001), a diffusion or secondary line/brand that made Jacobs more accessible to the very important middle retail market (Moore, Fernie, and Bert, 2000). The movement into diffusion lines is completely linked to the drive of greater profits, which is linked to public demand. The trouble a brand faces in moving down vertically is risking the brand’s reputation, customer base, quality and credibility especially when coming from a luxury brand (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000, Kapferer, 1997 and Aaker, 1996). Luckily, Jacobs has avoided this successfully without cannibalizing his high-end brand. One explanation of this is that Jacobs’s designs lend themselves to being made in both expensive and moderate priced materials and do not lose their cool. For example, Marc Jacobs produces a thermal jumper in cashmere that sells for 300 pounds and the same design in less luxurious wool sells for 80 pounds in the Marc by Marc Jacobs range (Borden, 2007).
Robert Duffy states “There is a huge difference in feel and quality, but there is a customer base for both (Borden, 2007, p. 3)”. In this case the diffusion line actually enhances the brand’s presence in this very different context not just from increased visibility but also the positive associations generated (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000). The response to this line was so encouraging a men’s Marc by Marc Jacobs line was added along with shoes, bags, eyewear, accessories as well as timepieces for both men and women. In effect the diffusion line and its extensions have been playing the role of the silver bullet brand by positively influencing the image of the strategic brand (Marc Jacobs) (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000). Strategically though the ready-to-wear collection provides the much needed PR but the diffusion lines and their extensions and the collection extensions horizontally drives and creates the revenue (Moore, Fernie and Burt, 2000).
The linchpin brand of the Marc Jacobs portfolio and architecture is the accessories line which is housed in its own free-standing store in New York, as well as a multi-branded store in London. This line of accessories is priced even lower than the accessories offered in the Marc by Marc Jacobs lines and is cultivating new customers by the hundreds of thousands. Marc Jacobs staffers like to call this store and line the “junk store” but the results are anything but. The accessories line and store sells anything from $90 leather bags, to $20 T-shirts to $5 heart shaped make-up compacts as well as flip-flops, gloves, hats, scarves and wellington rain boots. The low cost of the merchandise is the allure and initiates an even younger customer than the diffusion line into the cult of the brand. The idea of this line is to increase brand recognition and ultimately overall revenue. (Jana, 2006).
This line is 70% of units sold in Marc Jacobs stores, which totals around $20 million (Borden, 2007). The accessories line and shop in New York City generates $25,000 per square foot, which exceeds the $4,032, which is earned by the average Apple store the highest in a study by Bernstein Research (Borden, 2007). Gail Zuader a manager of boutique investment bank Elixir Advisors states “Marc Jacobs has achieved that rare feat of creating a secondary line that doesn’t dilute the value of the high-end with a focus on tongue-in cheek design that allows people to mix it up (Borden, 2007, p. 3)”. This directly relates to Jacob’s comments back in 1993 about his customer wearing expensive and inexpensive clothes, this can now be done with his whole brand architecture. A Jacobs follower can wear a collection dress from the high-end ready-to-wear line and mix it up with shoes and sunglass from the Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line. Then accessorize with cheap accessory handbag and a few bracelets.
Again, the Marc Jacobs brand has been extended horizontally with the introduction of the luxury home wares sub-brand in 2003, which includes crystal (produced in Eastern Europe from some of the best known manufacturers), sterling silver, cashmere pillows and other luxuries. This extension is also a silver bullet brand as it both positively influences the strategic brand, and maintains the luxurious cool edge that the label stands for. Marc Jacobs brand architecture has been fuelled by the ever increasing money spent on luxury products throughout the world. According to Verdict research company the luxury retail sector is worth 263 billion dollars for October 2007 and is rapidly accelerating by 71% (Verdict and Thind, 2007). The factors that have contributed to this increase include higher net disposable income among middle to top earners, increased leisure time, as well as economic recovery within several major countries including the United States and the UK (Moore, Fernie, and Bert, 2000).
A luxury company would be foolish not to expand in as many areas as possible without overextending its offerings to tap into the money being increasingly spent in this sector. Marc Jacobs success can be contributed to standardized marketing, brand identity, image as well as product offerings between the US and the UK. The image and the identity of the brand are two different items and are not to be confused. The image deals with perceived notions from the customer’s side whilst the brand identity is the picture the organization wants to send out to the public at large and its customers (Kapferer, 1997). The identity is sent out through the Marc Jacobs logo, advertising, store design and products. The logo is the words Marc Jacobs in a black font that is classic yet retro, not too thin or too thick, a medium thickness that is bold behind the white page. (Fig. 1) This typeface is standardized on all product offerings, line extensions, sub-brands and advertising. The black and white palette is kept throughout. The words may change as well as the offerings but the typeface is always the same. In this sense the font has become an icon of the label like Jacobs himself.
To compete in a global market, a global advertising and marketing strategy and product development strategy are integral to the luxury fashion brand. The average money spent on advertising is anywhere between 20-30 per cent of a company’s gross margin higher than it ever has been (Moore, Fernie, and Bert, 2000). “Every successful fashion brand is based upon an image; the way that you make that image is through your advertising. Fashion thrives on advertising. Advertising is what creates the identity and attraction (Moore, Fernie, and Bert, 2000, p. 932).” The Marc Jacobs advertising campaigns, which are all shot by world renowned photographer Juergen Teller since 1997, is integral to the brands standardized marketing campaign and has greatly contributed the Jacobs image of being arty, cool, hip and of the moment. The images shot by Teller are normally of artists, directors, musicians, and actors in beautiful colours.
Normally the product in the photograph is secondary to the poses, actions, background and expressions of the person(s) being photographed. The photograph is always in the middle of a stark white background the product name below it in the iconic Marc Jacobs font. The people that have been included in the advertising such as Sofia Coppola, Charlotte Rampling, Samantha Morton, Kristen MacMenamy, Meg White of the White Strips and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth have also contributed to the brands identity and image. (See Fig, 2) Bernd Schmitt states:
Customers want products, communications and marketing campaigns that dazzle their senses, touch their hearts, and stimulate their minds [as well as] things they can relate to and that they can incorporate into their lifestyles. They want these things to be able to deliver a desirable customer experience (Schmitt, 1999, p.22).
Thus he aligns the brand with people who are thought to be “cool”, “hip” or “of the moment” and in turn this has positive associations for the customer base and the brands offerings. These advertisements are seen both in American and UK high fashion magazines. For instance Vogue’s UK December 2007 issue features an advertisement for the Daisy perfume, the same ad is also in the December issue of Vogue in the US as well as Harper’s Bazaar in the US. This standardized marketing strategy is clearly chosen so the image and identity is not diluted between the countries; especially since the ideal Marc Jacobs customer has the income and luxurious lifestyle to fly between the two, and are the main markets for the brand. Though LVMH does not break down sales by brand, instead giving turnover by operating division, Table 1 clearly shows that Europe and the US are the biggest market for the luxury group, Europe generating 35% of group sales whilst America is the largest single market. Table 1. LVMH: Group sales, by region, 2005
Though there are Marc Jacobs stores in six cities in America and only one in the UK, London, the product offerings are standardized between the two. This is evident by visiting the stores in both countries and visiting the website where all the products are displayed, along with videos of the runway shows as well as news and gossip, all contributing to the marketing. By choosing to standardize the products amongst the two markets, stores, and on-line Jacobs adopts Levitt’s strategy, “at a relative low cost – as if the entire world were a single entity; it sells the same thing in the same way everywhere (Levitt, 1983, p.292).” Standardization for the brand increases its profits and visibility in both market sectors. The store’s interior design and window displays are also uniform. Jacobs and Duffy have enlisted designer Stephen Jaklitsch to design the store’s interiors, completing twenty one stores to date. He designs “hip but comfortable environments that mix high-end residential furnishings with sleek finishes and cheeky detailing (Kim, 2004, p. 126).”
Jaklitsch’s design for the Marc Jacobs shops represents an evolution of the brand concept and is mostly standardized though each space has its own challenges. “We do adhere to consistent color and materials palettes. We always use black-stained floors and luxurious materials like marble for the collection stores. I work to create backdrops that are as edgy as the clothing, yet a little more timeless (Kim, 2004, p.127).” Having harmony amongst the retail shops’ designs and the products offered customers in both countries ensures the same aesthetic experience, retail experience and service that the luxury brand is known for. The display windows are another extension of this standardization. During the month of June this year, the shop windows had a Blondie display theme with a large pop orientated portrait of Debbie Harry, with co-coordinating Blondie T-shirts on the mannequins; both in America and the UK.
These windows are displayed on the website under featured windows and it is evident that the windows are an important part of the global marketing strategy, as it is presented on the website. The windows are also eye catching and creative, enticing the walker-by on the street, into the store placing special importance on them. The windows for September 2007, featured the newly launched Daisy perfume. Here the art direction allows for some creative flourishes as the mannequins and other decorative displays are specialized for the windows in both countries, though the theme and many elements are uniform. The importance of the window displays shows how the design can be standardized across countries, but equally innovative and exciting for the customer.
Using Marc Jacobs as a case study, it is evident that a globalized strategy for products and marketing is still alive and used by global luxury companies as Levitt predicted in 1983. The markets have greatly increased, and drastically changed since this seminal article was written and in our postmodern society many consumers want greater differientation and customization. It will be interesting to see if Marc Jacobs can continue to survive with a uniform marketing strategy and product offering, or if the brand will have to adapt their strategy for a hybrid one.
 According to Mintel’s Luxury Good Retail Global report for July of 2006, LVMH was the leading global luxury goods company with 11% of the market in 2005. Mintel also states that they control the strongest and most dynamic luxury brands including Marc Jacobs.  For more information on Juergen Teller and his work see Juergen Teller edited by Cornel Windline, Koln, London: Taschen, 1996.