Style: The grey market, and why the marketers get it wrong

Since becoming more interested in clothes over the past few years, I find I’ve also taken more interest in how they are presented to me in the marketplace. We’re talking marketing, advertising, the dangling of the lure that will make me want to part with my hard-earned cash in exchange for whatever is being promoted. And I’m becoming increasingly aware of how this can play both ways for me, either creating the wanted desire to own the piece, or creating a totally opposite feeling, where I don’t know whether to merely ignore the advertiser, mercilessly mock them or actually feel really offended by their marketing overtures.

So what is my problem? Well, I imagine the goal of successful marketing must be to create a dialogue with the consumer. There is a desire in the producer to create a symmetrical relationship with the consumer, an exchange of resources, preferably of a large volume, over a long time, and as exclusive as possible. Or to put it in simpler terms: The producer has stuff, and wants money for it, and they want you to buy a lot of stuff, for a long time, and not buy from anyone else.

Hence why there is so much focus on branding and the whole lifestyle package today. Have you visited one of the “flagship” stores belonging to any of the large brands lately? One of my prime examples is the Gant store in the town where I live. They cover all bases. You can buy the entire Gant dream there, for the entire family, all more or less discretely labelled, all comfortably expensive, and it’ll all match nicely. To be honest, it’s the death of creativity and personal style. It’s nice and easy though, all it takes is a debitable card and you too can enjoy being branded.


Let Gant brand your entire existence

So what is the alternative? Well, the basis of personal style is selecting what feels right for you from whatever is available. And lets face it, if you’re reading this, you’re either my girlfriend or more than a just a little bit interested in what you’re wearing. Preaching to the choir, most definitely, but all in good fun, right? So, to follow on from this thought, it must be the goal of every marketer to ensure their goods are taken into consideration by the consumers they are targeting. There are many ways they can improve their odds, such as pricing, expensive advertising, flashy shops, riding the fashion, making really good stuff, and more. This wasn’t where I wanted to go though, as I have no agenda with aiding the industry in their marketing.

Minolta DSC

What I really wanted to talk about was, and I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to get there: How the marketers are utterly missing the target in so many cases. If you want to sell something to me, and I believe I am speaking for many other middle-aged men with aspirations of dressing well, don’t use handsome young guys as models. It doesn’t work for us. By all means use someone that isn’t a total troll, but do try to get the age of the model within a decade or so. We want to get an impression of what we might look like, by seeing how someone not totally dissimilar to ourself looks, and we’re not getting that feeling from looking at a model that is 20-30 years younger, with an immensely more toned body and a 10 in the looks department. We don’t need reminding that we’re a bit past it, even though we kid ourself that we’re attractive chaps in our prime, and probably even more so that when we actually were in our prime! (This is a function of now having all this knowledge that would have been so very, very useful to have had earlier in life, when we might actually have extracted some benefit from it).

Why is this even something that the marketers should pay attention to? Why can’t they just continue hawking their wares using pretty young things to pose for them? Fact: It’s costing them sales. The grey market, so to speak, is large, has money and a willingness to spend it on luxuries like clothes. So why alienate a large portion of your customers?


Presenting garments sans models – Courtesy SEH Kelly

Much of the time the garments are presented on their own, which is fine. Some of my very favourite brands use almost no models, and this works out for me, there is no distraction, either positive or negative. Modelling them on a dummy works just fine, we want to see a better representation of the garment than one lying flat or on a hanger.

First a couple of examples of marketing that miss the target. These are quite randomly selected examples, after a quick Google, I’m sure there are a million other and even better examples to be found.

Ralph Lauren is having a go, wanting me to buy his organic underwear. Now, the boxers are probably excellent, no quibbles there, but somehow the sight of this gym addict doesn’t convince me to buy:

ralp lauren organic underwear

SuperDry are trying to tap into the tweedy heritage market by launching a series of tweed jackets. I’m not sure if I’m actually feeling very tempted by their promotional photos though:

Superdry tweed

Can you see what I’m getting at? It does not work for the average, middle-aged, straight man. Am I alone in feeling this?

Let’s balance matters by having a look at a few companies that are getting in right. I’m not sure of the factors that lead the following companies doing things differently to the examples above. There is nothing in their background that indicates to me that they should have a better understanding of the market. It may have a bit to do with that they are smaller companies, or it could be more of a heritage-based and not high-fashion-based approach to what they do, or possibly they’re just a lot more in tune with what works. They might just be more willing to take a risk on using more alternative models than the big brands, or maybe they’re not using as many “stylists”? In any case, they are getting my attention in a good way, and that means I’m very much more likely to spend money with them.

SEH Kelly use a grey-haired model that comes across as superbly stylish and a regular chap at the same time. This gets my attention, as I can relate to this:


Universal Works often use models that look like very average men, and it works wonders for their presentation:


Oh, and to not only consider the garment makers, but also the sales outlets, I’d like to give a large amount of kudos to Superdenim and their Style snaps feature. The model used for these does a fantastic job. He is hard to place age-wise, shows the clothes well and I know for a fact that his presentations work for me. The proof is in my wardrobe.


Am I just being an old fuddy-duddy, being a bit boring and staid, just not hip to the scene? Or do I have a valid point? I’d like to think I do, and would appreciate hearing your points of view, either in support or in denouncing me as an olde pharte without a clue.

Also, if you have any good examples, I’d really appreciate a tip!

Thank you for your attention, I’ll go have a mug of tea now and ponder which cardigan is appropriate for my afternoon nap.


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