Fri, Aug 19, 2011 - Page 6 News List

‘Gangster chic’ branding comes back to haunt firms

The Guardian, LONDON

When rioters went on the rampage, the chain that suffered some of the worst damage was JD Sports.

Peter Cowgill, chairman of the successful clothing retailer, said as many as 30 of its stores were targeted and the cleanup and replacing lost stock would cost in excess of £10 million (US$16.5 million). He said he was “depressed” by how quickly things had spiraled out of control.

“Ultimately you have to have faith in the law and this resolving itself,” he told Retail Week.

The riots affected a broad range of businesses, from the Debenhams department store chain, to high street pharmacists Boots, Carphone Warehouse and discount store Argos, which said 18 stores had been looted. A report this week said at least 10 percent of retail and leisure businesses had been either directly or indirectly hit by the riots.

However, JD Sports became the enduring image of the devastation. Robin Knight, a retail expert at restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper, said it was targeted because it is seen to “embody youth culture.”

“It has clearly positioned itself as a purveyor of very aspirational products amongst the UK’s youth. Currys and Comet [both electrical/computer goods stores] got raided because they sell high-value products, but JD was very clearly in their minds as [the place] where they’d get the stuff they aspired to. JD has almost been a victim of its own success. It has worked hard to appeal to the youth market and when the country tipped into lawlessness, it still appealed to that market,” he said.

Branding experts are warning that the riots are a wake-up call for the fashion brands that JD Sports stocks. They have cultivated a “gangster chic” image and found themselves targeted by looters across the country.

Mark Borkowski, a press relations and branding expert, said that image was now coming back to haunt them.

“The riots are an absolute disaster for a number of brands. From the day the Daily Mail and the Guardian used that picture of the hoodie equipped completely in Adidas, it has become a massive crisis,” Borkowski said. “It has been a wake-up call for many brands which have spent millions developing ‘gangster chic’ and ‘dangerwear’ images.”

A rioter dressed head-to-toe in Adidas was pictured on the front pages of most of the UK’s national newspapers on Tuesday. One of the youngest offenders appeared in court this week in a full Adidas tracksuit. The brand took the step of condemning its customers for taking part in the riots.

“Adidas condemns any antisocial or illegal activity,” the company said. “Our brand has a proud sporting heritage and such behavior goes against everything we stand for.”

Borkowski said brands have been aligning themselves with gang and criminal culture for decades, but ramped up their association in recent years. Adidas will next week launch an advertising campaign featuring rapper, gang member and convicted criminal Snoop Dogg. The Adidas Originals advert also stars fellow US rapper Big Sean, who was charged with sexual assault last week.

Mark Ritson, a columnist for Marketing Week magazine, said brands that have been featured on newspaper front pages and TV news have gone into “lockdown” to consider how to respond.

However, the most-stolen brands will receive “extra street cred” from their association with the riots and looting, Ritson said.

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