Keeping the difference

by | Barcelona, Spain

Monday, 28 November 2016

tags: brand worlds, consumer culture, culture, europe


Desigual, the Spanish fashion brand launched in 1984 by Thomas Mayer, has always had a close relationship with its customers. Although it’s not completely mainstream (in terms of design and proposals), their communication strategy has been based upon the same spirit, all over the world: let’s keep (really) close to our followers (and avoid the distance with customers high fashion brands usually impose). They have expressed this in many ways: Kiss Tour is a concept that includes their events and shop openings/parties, which have nothing to do with the front row of most Fashion Weeks; “La vida es chula” (“Life is cool”), their slogan; feeble activity on social networks, sharing their backstages and some other insider details; keeping the conversation with the audiences and publics; asking their clients to become fashion models for a day; the Seminaked events and the Undie Parties

Nevertheless, and with the amazing growth they had in the last 5 years (which is clear to local customers due to the quantity of shops that have been opening in Spanish cities lately), there has been an ongoing comment: Desigual (which can be translated as “different/irregular/not the same”) is becoming really similar… to itself. There was a certain belief in Spanish society that some of the designs were quite repetitive and the core consumers of the first moment started to be a little disappointed. Yes, the brand celebrates life but it also used to be a unique style, not easy to find at the beginning and which gave wearers a certain urban-style distinction. And all that was starting to evaporate.

To make things worse, there was a lawsuit from Custo Barcelona in 2008; this brand said Desigual was getting “too much” inspiration from their designs… The buzz was starting to get louder and it was defying the fresh relationship Desigual had with their customers; moreover, its originality and uniqueness —the core values of the brand— were being questioned.

The campaign

So in answer to this they resorted to good old advertising, on YouTube and television. They launched their first ever audiovisual campaign in 2012, which also included a hashtag, in order to encourage conversation in social media.

But why did it work? Just because it was on TV and it sent a clear message? Not at all. A brand that had distinguished itself for being so unusual had to go beyond that. They still needed to keep it different and also maintain the fresh relationship with their clients.

The spots

The late 2012 campaign included 3 spots under the same spirit, which was expressed in the hashtag #tengounplan (“I have a plan”) for the New Year. The three young women that appear in each of the ads are quite daring in their own way: one —probably the less interesting proposal— was going to drop everything and travel around the world, taking a break from the financial crisis in Spain, from her life and boyfriend, because she wanted to take pleasure in living; another one was going to tell her boss she liked him and she wanted to have sex with him, “whatever the girls from the accounting department say”, because “we are here to enjoy life”; and the third one was finally going to introduce her female partner —the love of her life— to her family.

Sex and tolerance, the culture codes

Why where these ads appealing and not rejected as they would have been in other societies? Because Desigual knows its customers and the culture they live in. The two last spots invoke an attitude that represents a strong culture code in Spain: although it is quite a traditional society in many aspects —and being “traditional” in Spain has mostly good connotations—, in terms of real acceptance of diversity (in this case, gender roles and identities), it is quite open and respectful in daily life, something that was formally expressed in the same-sex marriage law in 2005 and in the law about gender equality in 2007.

They also appeal to another culture code related to enjoying life —which is a feature of the Spanish way of being/living­—, that went on in the two following campaigns, under the #hazloporlamañana (“Do it in the morning”, 2013) and #yomeatrevo (“I dare”) hashtags: sex is lived as something joyful and enjoyable by most of Spanish society, something that is openly talked about and referred to. (Other campaigns that represent this clearly in Spain are the ones from Durex: they focus on sex as a pleasurable activity, and they don’t talk about contraception at all, as they do in other countries). A recent and successful book by Roser Amills also reinforces this idea: its title is I like sex, and its author is a female journalist who also writes about technology in one important newspaper. This could be something shocking for other cultures: in Spain, you are who you are, and this is not necessarily determined by what you do. And of course, you are allowed to do as many things as you want, without being too judged by society in daily life.

The challenge and the shift

Through a deep understanding of the society and the core codes/values of their brand, Desigual re-thought the meaning of being different, fresh and daring: they lifted it from design to the people they dress. This was a smart move: there are still many brands that get mad at their audiences because they “don´t understand” what they are conveying and get stuck with the same message and tactics. Thinking over the core brand meanings and developing strategies to express them in new and appealing ways is a great way of keeping your followers next to you and of showing you care and hear their complaints, something essential in the era of social media. This negative buzz was transformed into something else: being fresh and different it’s not only about the design, it’s about you and your attitude in life. And Desigual is (still) by your side, celebrating distinctness.

And now?

Although there was a different turn in the ad they launched for Christmas 2015 (which was so general it could have fitted any other brand, such as H&M, Zara or Mango), they’ve kept the essential spirit about attitude in the early 2015 campaign with #queves (#whatdoyousee) proposal, which features Chantelle Winnie, a model with vitiligo —challenging traditional and mainstream ideas about beauty—, and the recent 2016 “Hundred miles”, which also includes older women. So the “Desigual” spirit is still alive, breathing and working well.

© Gabriela Pedranti 2016


Leave a Comment