One advertisement: Tommy Hilfiger

Before the online age reaching the mass audience was much more intriguing and exciting. You could get the most driving feedback from newspapers and magazines or TV and radio, but if you had a good product and good idea for the ad, you could reach out with the help of outdoor advertising. One of my favourites in outdoor advertising history is Tommy Hilfiger.

In 1985 Tommy Hilfiger was nobody on the global level. But the advertising art director George Lois decided to introduce the talented fashion designer with a really courageous outdoor campaign.
Set to straight away.

The billboard was huge and in the heart of Manhattan. Usually, when your name is written down in three-metres-high letters over New York’s Times Square you should be a star already. However, with Hilfiger it was the other way round. Hilfiger was almost nobody, but his name was side by side with the world famous names and brands!

So, back in 1986, the arrival of Hilfiger’s fashion brand was introduced by a huge billboard in Times Square and comparing the unknown Hilfiger with the American greatest fashion designers (and also household names).

Billboard of Tommy Hilfiger in New York Times Square. Picture: New York Times

The debut campaign for his label read:

The 4 great American designers for men are:
R _ _ _ _ L _ _ _ _ _
P _ _ _ _ E _ _ _ _
C _ _ _ _ _ K _ _ _ _
T _ _ _ _ H _ _ _ _ _ _ _

At the bottom of the poster there was also the address to Hilfiger’s shop.
New York and the rest of the Americans understood immediately that the first three names are Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein. The last name, competely unknown, was comparing himself to all the famous designers! The ad was outrageous and this kind of arrogance (or confidence?) was never seen before.

“In most households, the first three names (Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein) are household words. Get ready for another. His name (hint) is Tommy. The second name is not so easy. But in a few short months everybody in America will know there’s a new look in town and a new name at the top. Tommy’s clothes are easy-going without being too casual, classic without being predictable. He calls them classics with a twist. The other three designers call them competition,“ read the campaign.



Unfortunately I could not be there myself, but suddenly the whole city was talking about the campaign and Tommy Hilfiger became an overnight sensation.
Hilfiger has said that if he hadn’t done this kind of campaign, he would probably be poor today.

Basically this campaign made Hilfiger think about his reputation more than ever because his career was on the line. And this campaign made him work harder than ever to justify the hopes.

Hilfiger has commented: „I rolled up my sleeves and worked harder than I ever thought I’d work. I knew there would be only one way to prove the naysayers wrong, and that would be to come out with amazing clothes, so I literally rolled up my sleeves and worked like an animal making sure that every button, every zipper, every button hole, every color, every fit, every fabric was to perfection.”

Video: Tommy Hilfiger ja George Lois. Video: MktgStudyGuide

The ad was and is nice and ambitious.
First. To include the names of your competitors is a brave step. Hilfiger considered the other three names competitors, but these three most likely not at all. It would be the same as someone would say that there is Agatha Christie and there is Arthur Conan Doyle and now he or she is the thirs one. As good as Christie and Conan Doyle but nobody knows about them yet.

Second. To not include regular people or super models or prdocuts in the fashion campaign was even a bolder step. Initially Hilfiger wanted to use models wearing his clothes, but the creative team banned the idea.

Third. The ad had also playfulness. The game of hangman is really simple and everyone wants to give a try. Even if you do not care about fashion at all, you want to take a guess and try to find out the answer. Understandable for all generations.

Fourth. Do you advertise on a small scale everywhere or strategically in one (and the most important) place? Hilfiger chose the second option. And for the United States there was no better place for billboards than Times Square. Maybe today this approach might not be so special at all, but we all know that posters, billboards and outdoor media will always stay with us.

And just to add some other ideas: also the logo of Tommy Hilfiger is a success. Timeless, American, minimalist.
The campaign always focused on the logo of Tommy Hilfiger, that use the same colours as the American flag – red, white and blue. And the letter H, which is the “H” for “Hilfiger”.

Together with the remarkable support of global consumer recognition, Tommy Hilfiger has been building an extensive distribution network in over 115 countries and more than 1,600 retail stores all over the world. Tommy’s web page says that global retail sales of the Tommy Hilfiger brand were US $6.5 billion in 2015.

Idea of the Day: when nobody knows about you, position yourself on the same level as your competitors.


Additional information:
Tommy Hilfiger home page

Another Mag – The Visual Language of Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfigeri logo. Pilt: