There’s a memorable moment in episode 512 of Mad Men in which Don Draper tells a bunch of stone-faced executives from Dow Chemical how he grabbed near-total market share for one of his clients. “We had London Fog raincoats,” he says. “We had a year where we sold 81 percent of all the raincoats in the United States.” Without missing a beat, his partner Roger Sterling leans in and says, “Name another raincoat.”
Well, go ahead. It’s still a pertinent question. London Fog is one of those heritage brands that once dominated its niche so completely that its brand name became a synonym for the product. Certainly, that was true when this 1964 ad appeared. Of course, no brand stays on top without trying hard, and this is why London Fog’s 2013 ad is such an instructive counterpart. Heritage brands face the challenge of defining themselves in a modern context, which means they can either evoke their heritage or ignore it. According to Peter Dixon, creative director of brand consultancy Prophet, London Fog seems to have opted for the latter. And that’s too bad.
“The duck in the raincoat is so clever, using this absurdist, almost dada art and telling a compelling, colloquial story,” Dixon said. “The ad is on-point, differentiated and a statement about the brand and its value in people’s lives. Then I look across the aisle at the supermodel who’s naked under a raincoat—the cliché male art director’s fantasy— and it made me feel bad about my generation and the current state of creative.”
So, how’d we get here? In 1964, London Fog was riding high. Its revolutionary “Calibre Cloth” repelled water like magic (or like a duck), while the sleek lines of its knee-length raincoats were de rigueur in every careerist’s closet. Even in the ‘70s, two-thirds of raincoats sold in the U.S. were London Fog. Then the skies began to darken. Competition from new, high-end labels, a failure to introduce more casual designs, and the decision to sell to outlet stores—all of it plunged London Fog into two bankruptcies and eroded its image and market share along the way.
Dixon points out that the brand made a smart move in 2010 when it signed Mad Men star Christina Hendricks to model the coats—and her beehive hairdo and retro-chic sex appeal evoked the good old days. (“We used London Fog [coats] in the show,” Hendricks said at the time. “The trench…worked in the 1960s, and it works now.”)
But does it? Not in this latest ad. “The problem is, they’re genericizing the brand instead of treating it like a classic icon,” Dixon said. “They should have kept the heritage and tweaked it, positioning the brand in a premium position based on its classic lines and functionality. But here, the brand is underleveraged. It’s lost its own point of view and made itself like any other brand—a pretty girl with a bag on her arm.”
Damn. Where’s Don and Roger when you need them?