Going Clubbing With Cole Haan | Adweek
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Going Clubbing With Cole Haan

Why the 84-year-old fashion label decided to go digital and downtown

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It’s a good thing that Cole Haan footwear comes with Nike’s comfy Air cushioning, because Ivan Wicksteed has been on his toes lately. Since taking over as CMO nearly a year ago, the dynamic marketer hasn’t just given the 84-year-old brand the youth treatment, he’s moved its advertising away from print to social media and event-based marketing. Last week, Wicksteed cooled his heels just long enough for a sit-down with Adweek.

Adweek: When you signed on as CMO nearly a year ago, what, in your view, most needed fixing?
The biggest thing that needed attention was a focus on the brand itself, its DNA. In the last 10 years, Cole Haan had tried to be a number of different things, and the net result left people confused as to what it actually was.

So, what did you come up with?
The cornerstone of our brand positioning now is “made by the streets of New York.” There are two components. This is a hard city to live in from a shoe perspective, so that’s the functional component—making a shoe that can stand up to the rigors of New York City. Then there’s the emotional component, which is embracing the attitude.

You nudged the brand’s demo toward a younger, trendier, urban consumer. How’d you manage that?
I wish there was a silver bullet. It was doing multiple things at the same time. We focused on the right products that are a little more fashion-forward, which meant taking a few risks. We now have representation in some retail environments that we weren’t in previously. And the communication and creative direction are different. So it’s all of those things combined. You need to move all of the levers at the same time.

You’ve been working on a multi-chaptered marketing strategy, each one stressing a different shoe and its attribute. The latest spotlights the Chelsea Pump and is called “Don’t Go Home.” Explain.
We wanted to talk about the shoe in a way that would get on the radar of a fashion-forward audience. The Chelsea Pump is a 20-hour pump. Your feet don’t ache. You can go out and stay out in it. So we’re sending the message, “There’s a thousand reasons for going home early, but your shoes shouldn’t be one of them.” We’re encouraging people to stay out.

Just not through traditional media though, right? You’ve decided to drop print entirely. Why?
Well, I just don’t believe it’s going to force the appraisal of this brand in the way we need to do it. People are the new media, and the way that brands get noticed nowadays is by being talked about. So it’s pretty simple. You have to do things that get you talked about.

Like reopening the shuttered Don Hill’s nightclub for one evening—which you did to considerable buzz earlier this month. What else have you been up to?
Last night we had an event with [the deejay] Diplo at a club downtown, and we engaged our disciples through Facebook and Twitter to participate. We also had food trucks giving out free grilled cheese and encouraging people not to go home. And we have street projections and spontaneous dance parties. The art of this is to have so many things going on that you surround people with the experience of the brand.

Are you worried that this New York-centric approach might alienate people in other markets?
We’re conscious of that. But shoes that’ll withstand the rigors of New York? That’s very exportable.