Friday, January 27, 2012

What's an ad guy like you doing in a place like this?

          I teach in two departments at our college, and every once in a while advertising students elect to be in one of my fashion marketing classes. That's when the class warfare between the two disciplines begins.

          At first, the ad students rebel. "Marc Jacobs? Who's Marc Jacobs? Who's Forever 21? Nobody's forever anything. And why are we talking about Victoria's Secret? I'm strictly a Jockey guy."

         When we turn to a subject more neutral, such as Starbucks' branding versus Dunkin' Donuts' (to show how marketing principles apply almost everywhere), things calm down and everyone contributes. Both majors are happy to discuss Levi's, and how they're regarded as a luxury brand in Europe and fairly common in the U.S.

         But should the discussion wander into something such as Vera Wang's brand on mattresses, the ad students sulk. Sometimes first with mattress jokes, then admitting they don't know Vera Wang and what's she doing on a mattress, anyway?

         Then what happens is interesting. The fashion marketing students sort of adopt the ad students, taking them gently under their wings and easing them into the world of style and change and merchandising.

          When the ad students laugh at the fashion ads I show, my fashion students are quick to defend the ads, expressing the view that words would cheapen the identities of Versace and Gucci. Here I often find myself on the side of the ad students, who are dying to get their hands on a fashion ad to improve it. We often use Bebe ads as examples, and rewrite and redesign them.

           By the end of the quarter, the group is closer and each discipline has learned much from the other. The ad students are dressing better (or at least more carefully) and their work is more emotional, while the fashion students are more accepting of the notion of persuasion in fashion advertising.

           Maybe someday Vogue and Harper's Bazaar will be filled with ads that are more informative, more engaging, less predictable and more effective. And commercials on TV and the Internet will be a little less brash, more stylish, more human.

           That's the hope and the prayer, anyway.


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