Creative Roundtable: Trench Warfare

Creative Roundtable: Trench Warfare

Burberry creates a site for its signature coat, and turns it over to the masses

In a move that can be likened to man's first step on the moon, Burberry has ventured into social networking, launching TheArtoftheTrench.com. Seriously, this is a big deal - at least in the world of luxury brands, which have resisted mingling with common folk on the Internet. But Burberry is diving into the trenches with a site that celebrates its iconic trench coat.

Burberry recruited famed street-style photographer The Sartorialist for the endeavor, commissioning him to snap photos of people wearing Burberry trench coats and outerwear on the streets of fashionable cities like New York, London and Milan.

Visitors to TheArtofthe-Trench.com, who have become fans of Burberry's Facebook page, can comment on the photos and submit pictures of themselves looking stylish in their own Burberry trench coats for possible inclusion on the site.

As for why Burberry is taking the plunge into social networking now, Angela Ahrendts, the company's CEO, tells Financial Times that the site will allow Burberry to reach a new generation, one that needs to "feel the brand."

Is The Art of the Trench a fashion forward exercise that will bring Burberry a younger clientele, or is it a flop that will tarnish the brand's image? Luxury marketing experts Robin Harvey of Atelier and Skywire's Eva Hoff share their thoughts, along with fashion designer and Project Runway season two contestant Nick Verreos.

Why have the luxury brands shunned interaction on the Internet?
Hoff: The loss of control of a brand is a major issue, because at the end of the day the brand's DNA is the most important thing for a luxury brand. And actually opening up to allow social interaction with the brand is very scary for a lot of them.

Was it brave for Burberry to build a site like this, or could it hurt the brand's stature?
Verreos: I do think it's brave, and I also think you can't deny the importance of the Internet - it is part of what you need to do in this day and age.
Hoff: It's just very exciting to see a luxury brand actually venturing into the social networking space because they haven't so far.
Harvey: This is the start of many people realizing you need to engage the consumer and put your brand on a level where they can interact.

What do you think of Burberry's decision to collaborate with The Sartorialist on this project?
Verreos: It's the perfect marriage. His work is great because he takes snapshots on the street, but the photos look very editorial - perfect and composed.
Harvey: It's a brilliant move because it brings authenticity to the images. It also makes you think, 'There is some sort of trend going on. I need to get a trench coat.'
Hoff: Using him and linking his name to this will give the site more credibility across the Web.

Creative Roundtable: Trench WarfareWhat do you think of the way the photos are presented on the site?
Hoff: I'm a visual navigator, so I like the fact that you can click on images, and go through to see that image in larger detail. I know from usability tests that a lot of people are not aware that you can click on images, but I think it works here because the site is moving when you're rolling over the screen, so you are aware that something is going on.
Harvey: As a moving piece of design, it's very well done. It's really clear about what they're trying to do.

Is the trench coat history lesson presented on the site necessary?
Hoff: What it does for me is it firmly ingrains the fact that Burberry is the owner of the trench coat. They've put their stamp on it, and they own the space.
Harvey: It just gives them the authority in this area.

Is allowing people to submit their own photos a good idea?
Verreos: I like that idea, because there is a little bit of elitism to Burberry, but at the same time the quote, unquote "everyday folk" can be part of the Burberry lifestyle.

Is the music necessary?
Verreos: I'm not a fan of the music, but that's just my own taste. And you can turn it off.

Nick, you teach at The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Do you think this site will stoke interest in Burberry among your students?
Verreos:
Oh, definitely. This generation is very visual, and it's like, 'If you don't get me in two minutes, I'm done.' So I think that by overloading the site in such an organized way, by having all those photos right there, it just hits you. It's a great way to reach out to the younger generation and get them interested in the trench coat.

There is a link at the bottom of the page that'll take you to Burberry's main site if you want to make a purchase, but the site doesn't have an in-your-face appeal to buy anything. Smart approach?
Harvey:
That's the way forward. I work on [high-end fashion retailer] Net-A-Porter.com, and it works off the same principle. People have always said you couldn't sell high fashion on the Internet but Net-A-Porter has been a huge success, and they've sold their brands through more of an editorial approach - the Web site looks like a magazine. It's a really good way to sell on the Internet.

Is TheArtoftheTrench.com a success?
Verreos:
I think so. In looking at this site, I don't think there is anything that lessens the brand. In fact, it pays homage to it. It's just a matter of time before other brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton catch up.
Hoff: I really like it. I just find it very easy to use, very easy to navigate. The whole filtering system is really interesting because you can filter photos by popularity or gender. From a user perspective, you can go and see different styles that you might want to buy. A lot of thought has gone into this.
Harvey: I like it. I like the fact that they're using an engaging way to sell an iconic product. Whether it's a true social networking site, I doubt that - it may become that eventually. But they've done a good job with what they've got.

Do you think this site will inspire more luxury brands to harness the power of the Internet, or is this a novelty?
Harvey:
I do wonder how long it will last. They need to think of where it goes from here. It'll have done a lot of its job for now because it had a lot of pr. But whether it can carry on for months and months or years and years, I don't know. I doubt it.
Hoff: It will be very interesting to see what happens, because obviously at the moment there's a massive PR drive behind it - it's just launched, it's new, it's exciting, and it's never been done before. So I'm curious to see what happens when all the PR dies down, and how they evolve it. I hope it does evolve - I don't know into what, but it really acts as a showcase for the rest of the industry to embrace this medium and see what you can get.

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