Hilfiger’s music ties hit the right note with teens

This edition of TeenScreen checks out Hilfiger's tune-tied jeans marketing scheme, plugs into ChickClick, a girl `zine network with muscle, and explores Mainframe's subversive new CGI project. Also, The Geppetto Group's on-line teen panel reveals flagging teen interest in the written...
July 1, 1999

This edition of TeenScreen checks out Hilfiger’s tune-tied jeans marketing scheme, plugs into ChickClick, a girl `zine network with muscle, and explores Mainframe’s subversive new CGI project. Also, The Geppetto Group’s on-line teen panel reveals flagging teen interest in the written word.

In marketing circles, this year may well be remembered as the year people sat up and took notice of Generation Y. With the majority of this generation, estimated at 60 million strong, now in their teens, it’s the teen-targeted merchandise that’s feeling the full brunt of changing outlooks and priorities. And perhaps more than any market, the jeans market is experiencing previously unseen disruptions.

As the stakes have risen, competition has heated up, and Levi Strauss & Co., the undisputed jeans market leader for decades, has seen its U.S. market share plummet from 31% in 1990 to 17% in 1998. Over the last two years, sales for the jeans giant have slid from US$7 billion to US$6 billion. This is while overall U.S. jeans sales have actually increased by about 4%.

Stepping in to fill the void, VF’s Lee and Wrangler brands have increased market share from 18% in 1990 to 25% today, and Gap Jeans has shot up from less than 3% to about 5% of the market. Tommy Hilfiger, which only launched its Tommy Jeans brand three years ago, already shares about 7% of the market with fellow designer jeans brand Calvin Klein.

Despite having a long way to go before it can match the shares of the old guard, Hilfiger is already gaining a reputation for setting the new standard for marketing jeans to teens. Brand recognition is very high on the streets, ranking number one with teens in a recent American Express survey and number two (after Levi’s) with nine- to 13-year-olds in a Sports Illustrated for Kids study published last year.

The secret to Hilfiger’s success seems to lie in its close ties to the entertainment industry. From dressing emerging rap artists to sponsoring Britney Spears’ summer tour, Hilfiger has probably forged closer ties with musicians, singers and actors than any other brand.

‘Our strategy is to use music,’ says VP of marketing Jill Kingsley. ‘Music is at the core of what our brand is, and we really want to connect with our customers, so we do that in the most honest and authentic way possible. It’s music-inspired, it’s fashion-inspired, it’s street-inspired. It’s a combination of all of that.’

Hilfiger kicked off the brand in 1996 with a campaign called ‘In the Jeans,’ a print and TV ad campaign featuring the sons and daughters of famous musicians and singers. Model Kimberly Stewart, daughter of musician Rod Stewart, DJ Mark Robson, son of Foreigner member Mick Jones, musician Ethan Browne, son of singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, and other offspring modeled for the ads.

This was followed by the ‘Tommy Jeans All Stars’ campaign in 1997, which took the idea one step further. For this campaign, Hilfiger loaded up a bus full of the sons and daughters of well-known actors and toured around the U.S. putting on fashion shows, parties and concerts, culminating with an oh-so-cool bash at Morton’s in L.A., known for its Oscars parties. This time Goldie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson, Steven Segal’s son and others pitched in.

Last year, Hilfiger stuck with actors and took feature film product placement to the next level. Partnering up with Miramax, Hilfiger dressed the entire cast of The Faculty in Tommy Jeans, but rather than just taking a film credit, an extensive cross-promotion was developed. Young stars from the movie such as Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster and Josh Hartnett modeled the jeans in four-page pull-outs in Rolling Stone, Details, Vibe, Teen People and Seventeen, and TV spots airing across the U.S. featured the cast in Tommy Jeans lounging around the movie set. ‘We still get calls from studios every week asking us to do the same thing with them,’ says Kingsley. ‘But quite honestly, we don’t want to repeat ourselves, so if we do it again, it will have to be really different.’

Instead, Hilfiger has turned to teen idol Britney Spears for 1999. Spears has already appeared in Hilfiger’s spring campaign, and the apparel company is sponsoring Spears’ North American summer tour, which kicked off June 28 and will hit 50 major cities by September 5. During the tour, Hilfiger will run in-store retail promotions with sweepstakes and radio promotions and Spears will make personal appearances at Tommy Jeans outlets across North America. Recent Qwest/Warner Bros. signing Michael Fredo will open for Spears, and then accompany her in a big back-to-school print and TV campaign launching this August in teen mags and on MTV, BET and VH1. It’s an amazing opportunity for a 19-year-old who has yet to launch his first album.

In fact, a closer look at how Fredo became involved in the Spears’ tour is very revealing about how Hilfiger manages to stay so plugged in to the teen entertainment scene.

Andy Hilfiger, brother to Tommy himself, is VP of public relations at Hilfiger and a talent scout. He says he’s responsible for hand-picking the vast majority of stars used to market the jeans and is personally responsible for signing Fredo with Warner Bros. ‘We use both people who are established and we launch new people too,’ says Hilfiger. He says that working in the music business and touring the clubs helps him to identify who’s hot early on. And unlike most marketers who struggle to reach teens, he says that knowing what teens want ‘comes pretty easy.’

As part of the scene, rather than an observer of the scene, Hilfiger is perhaps the key ingredient other marketers lack. Kingsley, who admits that she does find the teen demographic difficult to reach, confirms that this ground-level involvement in ‘what’s cool’ is paramount. ‘I think that a big mistake that a lot of marketers make is that they try to talk like teenagers talk, and teenagers quickly realize that this is coming from a bunch of 40-year-olds sitting around a room trying to figure out what’s cool. That’s one of the struggles, and one of the reasons we’ve been able to overcome it is that with Tommy, our tie-ins with music and our tie-ins with entertainment are real, and I think the kids get that.’

In fact, it’s not only the kids who are getting it-other jeans marketers are catching on too. Along with dumping its ad agency of 68 years to move to TBWA/Chiat Day and replacing several key executives, Levi Strauss & Co. recently hired 39-year-old Roy Edmondson, a man with 11,500 seven-inch singles and a passion for the music business, to head up publicity and presence marketing. Already he’s persuaded Levi’s to sign a three-year agreement with SFX Live to produce a string of major concert tours. The first one, a 45-city tour called ‘Levi’s Fuse `99,’ features the Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray and Fastball. It kicks off later this month.

About The Author


Brand Menu