The month in advertising: Fashion has much in common with adland

All the big issues in adland this month...

To paraphrase the title of Irvine Welsh’s 2007 collection of short stories: if you like advertising, you’ll love fashion. Well, it’s quite likely that you will, which is why Campaign has dedicated a substantial part of this global edition to fashion and its links to our industry and to some of those who have a particular fashion passion. This also coincides with the big four fashion shows in London, New York, Paris and Milan, where designers will showcase their work to the world.

The two spheres of advertising and fashion revolve in a far closer orbit than face value might suggest – both seeking to push the boundaries of creativity into new and unexplored territories; to use original thinking in order to gain a competitive advantage over rivals; to become part of bigger cultural conversations; to be noticed; to be loved; and to make a difference (and, let’s not forget, to make a profit). And, on occasion and in their worst excesses, both can also be accused of sharing other and less welcome common traits: both having more than their fair share of monstrous egos; an outrageous sense of self-importance; and being vacuous, vapid and irrelevant to most people’s everyday lives. Mere fripperies. Industries whose heads are so far up their individual arses that they have to open their mouths to see out.

The parallels run deep, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

For fashion houses, their success is dependent on the potency and genius of their creative directors, as well as the history of their brand. The creative directors are the people who seek out fresh ideas and try to find new inspiration to shape their future collections, and the creative direction – and reputation – of their companies. They are the face, heart and soul of the brand. It’s little wonder that the most successful are totemic to their labels and paid and pampered accordingly.

Advertising, however, is a little less forgiving – agency reputations are perhaps harder won and more easily lost than for their fashion rivals. Moreover, the most venerable fashion brands tend to outlast those of agencies whose business models are under pressure (as anyone who worked at J Walter Thompson will know), although there’s probably a tenuous link somewhere between the rise of fast fashion and a corresponding increase in programmatic creative.

Ad agencies are, ultimately, business-to-business brands in a way that their fashion counterparts would probably fail to understand (and possibly look down upon). But there are similarities – the stewardship and leadership of the best agencies comes from the top creatives within them. 

They, too, are the custodians of the brand and the catalysts of its success – season after season, year after year – and to which the rest of the agency looks for a collective creative vision (or at least they should). 

They, too, can command salaries that are beyond the reach of most and can sometimes have egos to match. But, given that the success or failure of an agency rests firmly on their shoulders, and the executive creative director or chief creative officer is almost always the first to take the bullet when things go wrong, it’s not really surprising.

There have been numerous examples of people making the move from advertising to fashion (and a few of people going the other way, such as Grey London’s chief creative officer Vicki Maguire). With digital disruption having an effect on both sectors, it’s entirely possible that we will see more of this to come in the near future. While not offering complete job security, fashion might be a more fruitful in the current climate for a creative to ply their trade and to find professional fulfilment. 

According to market research company Euromonitor International, the global apparel and footwear market reached a value of $1.7tn in 2017. In contrast, the global advertising market stands at $560bn in 2019, according to the most recent figures from Statista. The opportunities are huge, particularly in newer economies such as India.

The fashion industry is also one of the world’s biggest polluters, responsible for an estimated 4% of global landfill, as well as using huge volumes of water and chemicals in the production of clothes. The recurring issue of the exploitation of child labour in developing countries is well known – less well known is that 5% of the daily need for water of the entire population of India, a country where 100 million people do not have access to drinking water, would be covered by the water used to enable cotton-growing in the country. 

Much as the advertising industry has started (belatedly) to face up to the impact that it is having on the environment and whether it is making a positive contribution to our collective wellbeing, it’s surely well overdue that fashion does the same?

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