Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Double Play

Hilfiger exploits on- and offline mediaThe last Tommy Hilfiger ad I remember spending time pondering was a giant billboard in Times Square. It showed a group of guys and gals who had just emerged from their local swimmin’ hole, stripped down and smiling broadly in their sopping wet Tommy boxers and underwear.
This was a few years back, and as I recall, the group got my attention because it consisted of about one woman for every 10 wet men–what was the story there? Plus, something about the blinding whiteness of the group’s teeth, combined with the transparency of the collective nipple alert, made it wholesome and deeply creepy at the same time.
Since then, however, the Hilfiger ads have seemed like simulations of other ads: too fake to manipulate us into easy voyeurism. This sameness problem is a standard trap. The majority of fashion and jeans brands have tried similar motifs of sex, waifs and the semicomatose shirtless in their ads for the last 10 years.
Even when the Hilfiger ads were photographs of the Rolling Stones in concert, the rockers appeared to be aging models simulating the aging icons. That went double for the subsequent campaign, which helicoptered a model group, decked out in requisite red, white and blue Tommywear, onto the front lawn of a faux White House. The consciously cheesy shot of supermodel Rebecca Romjin groping around an Oval Office desk was strange, but it won no cigar.
In this new round of ads, however, Hilfiger has found his metier. Although many fashion brands now have Web sites, I don’t know of any other retailer making such smart use of interactivity and converged online- offline communication.
“House Party,” conceived and produced through Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, is a six-episode TV show appearing on the Web site. While people ponder the future of Net advertising, and find most banner ads annoying, this sort of streaming ad video is the perfect melding of form and function.
To launch a new junior sportswear collection, it’s Felicity meets Popular, with lots of Tommy stuff in the closet. While we all hoped for a beautiful cyberdemocracy that would
educate the populace, what the Internet seems good for now is finding the “store locator” button. The Net dispenses with the typical filters of offline media. For journalism, it’s a worry. For advertising, it’s a godsend–you can provide a show that’s all advertising.
“House Party” is an impressive start. It’s the story of Mandy, Whitney and Brad. The writing isn’t bad and the direction and acting are good.
“House Party” debuted on Valentine’s Day and has had a new episode every week in the six weeks since. What stayed in my mind were some of the behind-the-scenes clips of the making of the series, including the shot of the wardrobe rack. Tip-to-toe, Tommy never looked so alluring. I even coveted the socks.
In addition, a cybercampaign for Tommy Jeans broke last week. It, too, is a paragon of interactivity. Last fall, Hilfiger announced the “Unreleased Cuts” talent search for bands and DJs on its Web site. A grand- prize winner would receive a $10,000 demo deal from Qwest Records.
Not surprisingly, the site was swamped with responses and the ad campaign (which is great-looking) focuses on six of the top contenders (including a guy who calls himself Schpilkas. Oy, my grandmother would be proud).
After going to the Web site, users vote for their favorites. This is an inspired use of the Net; allowing new, idiosyncratic voices to be heard and making for a fresh print campaign. At least until the other jeans and fashion people start playing catch-up. K

Tommy HIlfiger
Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners
New York
Mandy Hoveyda, Frank Fusco
Sharon Harte
Executive Producer
Tommy Hilfiger
Risa Mickenber