Watching Channel 4's second series of Liberty of London last month gave me the biggest wake up call I've had yet on the impact of branding. If you watched the documentary you may have been taken by the flamboyant staff members, the iconic prints or even the building which is far from your average department store. Me? I was more taken by the managing director, Ed Burstell, the New Yorker swiftly headhunted by the store six years ago and persuaded to abandon his life at Bergdorf Goodman in order to help revitalize the Liberty brand across the pond.
From the very first episode, it's clear why Burstell was appointed. Not only is his enthusiastic style of management a refreshing example of what many retail companies lack, but more importantly, he appears to have the insight to recognise the obvious where others fail to do so. For instance, when selling a product, it is the box, the name, the advertising, the colors of the box, name, advert, the presentation of the box, name, advert etc that sells it - rarely the product itself. "The last thing you do is put the product inside the box!" he stressed. Which, if you think about it, is so true.
This is perhaps why for Christmas nearly ten years ago I was so desperate for a Tiffany & Co silver heart - on a necklace, a bracelet, any style or form. But was it really the iconic heart or, more likely, just the little turquoise box that the product came in? Looking back, had the heart come without the box I wouldn't have been interested. No box would have been a complete deal-breaker. A few Christmases later, it was a Smythson notebook that I longed for. Why? "Because I write things down ALL the time!" I assured my parents. They agreed, but why a Smythson one? Again, it was the Tiffany box syndrome.
Another product that comes to mind is the Kate Moss for Topshop paisley dress that hit the high street back in 2007. This I never got. I searched every store for one as did every other teenage girl across the land, however, if you weren't prepared to queue up outside the Oxford Street flagship store in the early hours, you were more than likely to be out of luck. Once again, the same question arises...what was so special about a cotton paisley dress?
This winter, just in time for Christmas, one of fashion's most talked about adverts is the Chanel No 5 clip featuring the supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The advert shows the story of Bundchen surfing in the morning as she watches her Mr Right leave a note offering to meet later that night. She then swiftly jumps off the surfboard, picks up the kids, gets ready, dons an evening gown, drives across America just in time to enter the most glamorous of restaurants, falling into the arms of Prince Charming. The brand wants to promote the Chanel woman as the one who can do it all, have it all, indeed has it all - as Bundchen does - in real life as well as on screen. Watch the ad just once and many women could believe that they too are Bundchen - career, school run, nights out? You are the Chanel woman! Albeit without the supermodel salary.
But back to Liberty. Another comment made by Burstell that stood out was short, direct and put much into perspective: "You can travel the globe and forget what's in your back yard..." Think about products this way and Christmas could suddenly be more rewarding if I was given a piece of jewelry passed down through the family rather than unwrap another blue box. A notebook? Why not use an unused one and care more about what you will put inside it rather than what is written on the outside. A New Year's Eve dress? Wear last year's...it'll be vintage! Liberty's, Tiffany's, Smythson, they're all iconic brands which sell spectacularly well. But when you purchase your next must-have, ask yourself just in time before you hand over your card, is it the brand I'm falling for or do I really need the product?