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IQ News: VF's New Web Design Signals Shift in On-line Brand Strategy

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By Bernhard Warner





VF Corp., purveyor of such well-known apparel names as Lee, Wrangler and Jantzen, has pulled the plug on Threads, its on-line soap opera, in favor of a new Web gateway that stars its own labels.





Acknowledging that on-line serials are too expensive to produce and better left to entertainment studios than brand marketers, VF shut down Threads in early April, said Jim Corbett, VF Corp.'s manager of alternative media marketing. The new site, by Think New Ideas Inc., New York, will feature a variety of entertainment channels, games and possibly chat, with the purpose of building a community of VF apparel enthusiasts.





The jeans and clothing giant will boost its Web budget by 50% this year to develop and promote the new site. Spending will exceed $1 million and could top $3 million as each of VF's six main brand divisions earmarks a portion of its media to an on-line presence. (VF spent about $71 million on traditional media in 1996.) A Web ad banner campaign will coincide with the late July launch of the site.





The former site generated adequate traffic, but it drew fans to the serial drama for the wrong reason. 'People were e-mailing us asking us how they could date the characters,' Corbett noted, likening the project to ineffective product placement. In Threads, VF brands sponsored plot modules that revolved around five fictitious characters living in New York. On the new site, VF brands will get more exposure as channel sponsors with links to their own sites.





At the time of Threads' debut last April, the site was considered a bold new approach to brand marketing on the Web. The soap opera concept, via Avalanche Systems, generated traffic but had no measurable effect on sales or branding efforts, said Corbett. 'It got us noticed early, but it also told us we couldn't compete' with the rise of on-line serial dramas, he said, which 'are too expensive to maintain and have a limited shelf life.'





The new site will include marketing messages and promotional fare to cull demographic information from visitors. It will be watched closely by Web analysts who have criticized the construction of elaborate destination sites for youth-oriented or impulse brands.





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