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River Island on navigating the divide between brand marketing and culture

With Donald Trump’s presidency and dividing policies has come a wave of brands looking to show what they stand for. Be it on the immigration ban or the Women’s March, taking a stand on what’s important to consumers is arguably being seen as a quick way to win fans by some marketers.

However, River Island’s customer director Josie Cartridge believes that while there is “a definite cultural movement going on at the moment” that’s “allowing consumers to express themselves,” River Island has to remember that its purpose is simply “to inspire people to have fun with fashion and build confidence around their personal style".

It's this idea of self-expression that’s formed the backbone to the brand's first marketing push with creative agency ODD. The Spring ad campaign has seen it invest heavily in above-the-line (cinema, TV and print) as well as a content campaign harnessing the influence from some of the models it worked with, like Lindsey Wixson who on Instagram has made no secret of her political views.

But rather than get sucked into talking about those politcal views, Cartridge said it’s important for River Island to accept that its not always appropriate to get involved in those conversations. This hesitation is no doubt exacerbated by the increasing instances of brands seeing a backlash after wading in. Just yesterday (9 February), Under Armour's chief suggested "Trump is a real asset for the country" and was subsequently met with harsh criticism from the athletes it sponsors and fans alike.

“We don’t have any big political motives. It’s important for consumers to know about what you stand for…but we’re a fashion brand, we inspire around trends and we take an inclusive position around that. It’s important to understand how your customers are thinking and feeling but it’s also important to understand what your relevance is within a broader conversation,” she explained.

The new campaign kicks off this week and will “celebrate individuality” and promotes the latest seasonal trends. River Island has started working with a handful of influencers who will show how they’ve interpreted the trends and it will also look to pull consumer generated content into its wider marketing.

“It’s more of an evolution, rather than something that’s brand new,” said Cartridge of the marketing plan. “It’s the first time we’ve worked with ODD and we’re trying to make sure we have an idea that’s really relevant to our customer base and that we think can pull through all our communications. We don’t want it to be an ad campaign as a moment of time in a bubble.”

‘Managing expectations’

The roll out of the activity comes at a time when the word ‘measurement’ is on every marketers lips following P&G brand boss Marc Pritchard’s calling out of the “murky” media suply chain and demand for greater transparency and agreement on what is being measured.

River Island is a heavy investor in social channels, with Instagram and Snapchat being its preferred channels of choice. Cartridge admitted that the conversation around measurement “is hard, and can be very confusing”.

“The problem for us is that we don’t really understand the crossover between channels and devices. We might look at a reach as a measure but it’s then very hard to judge it against the reach of another channel,” she explained.

However, she is optimistic that as data enrichment continues to improve so too will information it gets in return on audience crossover.

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Jennifer Faull

Jen Faull is deputy news editor at The Drum with a remit to cover the latest developments in the retail and FMCG sectors. Based in London, she has interviewed major business figures including top marketers from Mondelez, Unilever, Tesco, and Lidl.

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