Prada and Kenzo: Brands as Entertainers

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Brands often think of content marketing as the art of being useful. Betty Crocker teaches us how to cook through the iconic Betty Crocker Cookbook. Verizon publishes useful ideas about apps through its Recapp blog. But content marketing can also be about entertainment, as demonstrated by two recently released short films from luxury fashion brands Prada and Kenzo. Brands can be film entertainers.

Castello Cavalcanti

In November 2013, Prada teamed with vaunted director Wes Anderson to present the short film Castello Cavalcanti. The 7-minute movie stars Jason Schwartzman as the race-car driver who discovers the joys of slowing down after being stranded in a small Italian town. The Prada branding in Castello Cavalcanti occurs as a subtle product placement. When the storyline takes hold, you have to look closely to catch the Prada name appear on the back of the uniform worn by the driver.

Castello Cavalcanti has been a PR boon for Prada, generating strong buzz in publications ranging from Creativity to Rolling Stone along with the more predictable fashion publications. The movie has bolstered Prada’s crossover reach across multiple industries in fashion’s orbit, including media/entertainment. The Hollywood Reporter said that the move “rivals Ron Howard’s Rush for best Formula 1 racing movie of 2013.” And, this is not the first time Prada has joined forces with a legendary director to produce a short film. In 2012, Prada presented A Therapy, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley.

Automobile Waltz

French fashion house Kenzo, founded by Kenzo Takada, has teamed with Hala Matar to present Automobile Waltz. The romantic short, released on Valentine’s Day week, is a more conceptual affair. The plot, which unfolds as a series of vignettes, centers on a young estranged couple rediscovering each other on different southern California locations in a stylish cherry red Mustang convertible. Amid the vignettes, a child drives off in a car, and an orchestra materializes on a dark sound stage (you either go with it or you don’t). The entire movie, including clothing, music, and setting, is based on the Kenzo Spring/Summer 2014 line, which is inspired by the beach towns of California. Here’s how Kenzo explains the movie on its blog:

To best convey the atmosphere and themes of our Spring 2014 collections for men and women, we collaborated with director Hala Matar and actors Anton Yelchin and Lydia Hearst. The movie seeks to incite the mood and spirit we associate with America’s west coast and more importantly the ambience of early 1960’s California . . . The atmosphere brings us back to how we feel when watching a Rock Hudson movie and when we look at photos of cocktail parties in Palm Springs. For the director the connection between the cars and the collection is that they “both share the timelessness and classic feel”. For us, the wave prints recall an age of visiting the beach during the heyday of 60’s surfers . . . The music, born of a collective of live musicians, a mini-orchestra narrating the action in each scene, effortlessly channeling the dance between man and woman, love and regret.

You get the impression that Kenzo is taking this stuff seriously.

Within just a few days of its release, Automobile Waltz has  generated some steady coverage among fashion and lifestyle influencers including stupidDOPE, Hypebeast, and Selectism. And Hala Matar is just the sort of up-and-coming international director who has the right amount of hipness for Kenzo. Automobile Waltz follows Kenzo’s collaboration with TOILETPAPER to produce a surreal ad intended also to promote the Spring/Summer line.

The embrace of high-concept entertainment makes sense for Prada and Kenzo. Fashion houses are all about building mystique and cultivating cool. Publishing a how-to guide for fashion would be uncool and déclassé to Prada and Kenzo. Discussing how art and architecture inspire design on the Kenzine fashion blog or hosting a Wes Anderson on the Prada websites positions these brands the way they want to be known. It doesn’t matter whether you “get” the abstraction of Automobile Waltz; not caring whether you do is really part of the point.

Wes Anderson has collaborated with other brands before. American Express worked with him to give us an extended ad My Life, My Card. But both Prada and Kenzo are taking storytelling as a marketing approach to another level. Their films are really akin to mini-Hollywood moments. I can easily see more companies creating branded film entertainment in a three ways:

  • Paying a well-known director to create content and having the brand “present” it.
  • Partnering with a well-known director to co-create content, in which case the brand has more creative oversight but fewer options since not all directors are going to give up creative control.
  • Hiring filmmakers outright and making them part of their in-house creative and marketing teams, as many brands have done by hiring journalists to create content — likely an option for lesser-known filmmakers.

Brands have tried those approaches for quite some time creative fields ranging from writing to music. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Collaborating with well-known creative talent enables a company to borrow from a star’s established appeal but also forces the brand to give up some control and take risks. Hiring talent affords more control but a loss of mystique of working with an outsider. Of course, many brands lack access to the likes of big gun like Wes Anderson or an up-and-comer like Hala Matar — which is probably fine by Prada and Kenzo because their brands are not for everyone.

What are your favorite examples of branded entertainment?

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