With an extensive distribution network in over 155 countries, it’s likely you already recognise the name Tommy Hilfiger. The corporation is one of the world’s leading lifestyle brands and boasts a global earning of $6.5billion (estimated in 2015). With over 1,600 retail stores worldwide, an accumulation of 10,000 employees, six successful product lines (fabrics, designer wear, denim, cosmetics, toiletries and home furnishings) and countless celebrity endorsements feeding into an iconic name, the brand is one of the mainstays of the industry and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.
So with all of this success, how can Tommy Hilfiger ensure it doesn’t slip into complacency and become just another part of fashion furniture? At this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, chief brand officer Avery Baker revealed that Tommy Hilfiger breathes a startup mentality, taking cues from current companies such as Uber and Airbnb, who have a similar mentality. This article explores how a multinational corporation has managed to tap into a broad pool of potential customers by implementing disruptive, forward-thinking and, sometimes risky, marketing techniques.
Where It All Began
Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger hasn’t always been endowed with a yearly billion dollar income. In fact, his first fashion venture, People’s Place (a clothing and record store he co-founded in upstate New York), led to bankruptcy in 1977. Undeterred by this setback, a meeting between Hilfiger and Mohan Murjani, a self-proclaimed “Indian textile magnate,” some three years later spawned Hilfiger’s first signature collection, which featured modernised versions of button-down shirts, chinos and other classic preppy styles. Unbeknown to him at the time, the casual and youthful approach of these initial pieces would remain a trait of Tommy Hilfiger’s later collections.
The next 20 years (1990s – 2000s) saw The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation go public, open its first flagship stores in Beverly Hills and London, and begin distributing women’s apparel, following the licensing of Pepe Jeans USA. Partnerships and relations have always been the building blocks for Tommy Hilfiger, as throughout the 1990s the company’s marketing division worked in tandem with the popular music industry, sponsoring Pete Townshend’s Psychoderelict tour and fitting out Snoop Dogg with Hilfiger gear.
To this day, Tommy Hilfiger himself still sits in the principal creative seat, leading a team of designers through the process to preserve the “classic American cool” style the brand arguably pioneered.
How It All Happened
Tommy Hilfiger has a rich marketing and advertising history, having always taken experimental routes to gain awareness and cause a stir in the fashion press. In 1985, Hilfiger kicked off his first collection by enlisting the help of graphic designer George Lois to create a billboard for the centre of Times Square. Rather than use a model, the ad featured the initials of three well-known fashion designers (Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein) and concluded by announcing that “TH” (Tommy Hilfiger) was the next great menswear designer.
Other Hilfiger campaigns included comparing Hilfiger’s American style with other “iconic American” classics, such as the 1955 Thunderbird and 1940 Harley-Davidson bike: a brave move for a fashion brand in the 1990s. Hilfiger also turned to courting the hip-hop scene, that was a staple of New York history, seeking rappers such as Puffy and Coolio to feature in his runway shows.
These star-studded relationships and confident marketing tactics saw Tommy Hilfiger become one of the most dominant fashion brands in the market. From Destiny’s Child to Kate Moss, the biggests names of the 1990s, enticed by Hilfiger’s preppy American style, bought into the brand.
Despite this supreme streak of fashion authority, Tommy Hilfiger’s audience grew up. Suddenly the Hilfiger brand was left in the past, seemingly disconnected from the young fashionistas of the new millennium. In the past 12 months though, all that has changed. Tommy Hilfiger has proved that it isn’t a rigid company that’s past its prime. Rekindling a love for Hilfiger in subsequent generation just required a fresh mentality…
Where Tommy Hilfiger is Now
To dust off the cobwebs of the 90s, a complete brand refresh was required. So Hilfiger turned to the latest marketing techniques: the involvement of social influencers to push the brand name.
Tommy Hilfiger has always maintained relationships with key people in the fashion, music and entertainment industries, so it seemed fitting for the brand to embrace its heritage and once more seek out the current hotshots: on this occasion, it was American fashion model Gigi Hadid.
The so-called “Gigi Effect” has helped Tommy Hilfiger strike a chord with younger fans, tapping into Gigi’s 34.9 million followers on Instagram and 5.2 million on Twitter by kitting the model out with the latest Hilfiger items to promote to her dedicated fans.
Turning to Gigi Hadid to drive sales was only one element of Tommy Hilfiger’s turnaround. Wanting to completely overhaul and reimagine what it means to produce womenswear, Tommy Hilfiger also revolutionised the catwalk – by making items readily available online and in stores across 70 countries, the next day. This process previously took six months to set up.
“Our biggest learning of all is that embracing risk is powerful; it’s liberating. We have to retain the guts to keep pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone again and again,” says Avery Baker. “By doing so, we can rewrite the rules around creativity and innovation.”
The launch of a festival-inspired fashion show in Los Angeles – Tommyland – achieved this. In February 2017, the event opened its doors to 2,000 consumers (rather than just press and industry names). The see-now, buy-now action was in full force, as the show was streamed live across the brand’s digital channels, racking up 470,000 views across 70 countries worldwide. This event alone catapulted Hilfiger back into the headlines of fashion press, with many publications saying that it would be difficult to top.
Tommy Hilfiger has seemingly reinvented itself as a brand, whilst still remaining true to its deeply embedded roots that helped mould the preppy, American style. Rather than becoming stale, it has immersed itself in the latest marketing and advertising techniques – ones that even start-up companies with considerably less overhead would feel anxious about executing.
Where will Tommy Hilfiger go next? Well, with TOMMYXGiGi under its belt and a newfound audience by its side, anything is possible.