What do you do about advertising so effective that people are willing to pay for it? What happens when the advertising itself becomes a kind of fast fashion? Faris Yakob thinks through the conundrum.
This month, shoppers at Forever 21 encountered a new capsule collection from a hot designer known as Chester Cheetah. The fast fashion leviathan unveiled its newest range including swimsuits, T-shirts, and dresses, printed with images and logos of Cheetos Crunchy and Flamin' Hot snacks. According to the Frito-Lay director of marketing this is the inevitable result of the brand’s evolution into a “lifestyle brand”. Leaving aside any potential concern about a lifestyle built around snacks, Cheetos are just the latest brand looking to get young people wearing them as proudly as Gucci, or Wrangler [on my bootie].
If you didn’t get that last line, it’s from Lil Nas X’s breakout hit Old Town Road, which led almost immediately to a collaboration with Wrangler on some limited-edition jeans. Do try to keep up: We are taking trends here, and they get cycled through fast in a hyper-mediated fashion-obsessed social media environment. Fast food has embraced fast fashion with gusto, finding synergy in their mutual rapidity and disposability.
When Taco Bell unveiled their Forever 21 collaboration, they announced that “though Taco Bell and Forever 21 come from different industries, both share core consumer values of convenience, speed, and affordability” and thus they partnered to leap onto the taco fashion trend in 2017. Forever 21 is “first and foremost…a trend-first company,” as VP of merchandising Linda Chang has said. Fast Fashion is obviously a trend-driven business.
It’s unsurprising then that Forever 21 has an insatiable appetite for new designs, which has got it into legal trouble numerous times when those designs seemed somewhat familiar. Diane von Furstenberg filed a lawsuit against them for copying her designs, as did Gwen Stefani, and about 40 other fashion houses. The company points out it has never been found liable for copyright infringement, which is the least one would expect from a company that is so pious it puts “John 3:16” on the bottom of each of its shopping bags.
Brand collaboration is a less litigious source of intellectual property, keying into the kitschy resurgence of pop nostalgia. These collections offer immediate gratification, like snacks, and partial exclusivity through limited edition runs, both of which suit users of the trend-driving business that is Instagram. Instagram users that focus on highly styled selfies need a constant supply of new and ideally unique looks.
Forever 21 seems to have become the preferred partner for reaching fashion and price conscious young people, or those wishing to still be young. However, the trend of fast food-fast fashion is too powerful to be contained at any one retailer. McDonalds launched a line of lounge wear to promote their home delivery offering. Ever the iconoclast, KFC struck out on its own with an e-commerce store called KFC Unlimited that sold, ironically, a strictly limited run of Colonel Sanders t-shirts, sweatshirts and a 400-year-old meteorite carved to look like the Zinger, which was priced at $20,000. The KFC U.S. director of digital was asked whether the meteorite is a joke or something the brand expects people to really buy and he replied “yes", which I suspect tells us a lot about how much fast food marketing to ‘millennials’ is conceived.
Over a decade ago, I was on the jury for an advertising show innovation category and we debated some branded products that had both garnered some press attention and sold in limited numbers. Burger King hacked the media with their flame-grilled fragrance in 2008 and sold a few in novelty stores in NYC – they brought the idea back in 2015 because who can remember the Noughties? Four’N Twenty Pies created and sold the Magic Salad Plate, so you could eat your pie and still pretend to the ladies you were eating a salad. Yes it was a different time, and that was in Australia, but it seemed to us that if you could convince people to pay you money for your advertising, that was probably quite smart and would definitely make a compelling effectiveness case, or at least shore one up.
However, it is a very different time, and fast fashion has become increasingly criticized of late. They’ve become the poster industry for advertising-driven disposable product culture and its negative environmental and human impact in the poorly regulated countries in which it is manufactured for pennies an hour. In fact, the issue has become so pressing, at the crux of so many trends, that a brand recently looked to solve it.
According to a case study from Scandinavian fashion retailer Carlings, clothing sales have increased 60% since the birth of social media. Concerned about growth in their category, Carlings unveiled a digital fashion collection for Instagram so you could get a unique look each time without constantly sending clothes to a landfill. It picked up the Grand Prix in digital craft at Cannes, so perhaps this is where the future of brands and their social solutions lie. Not in solving the big problems society faces as a whole, just in addressing the issues that advertising created in the first place.