BRAND GENTRIFICATION?

4:38 pm


"On Brand Marketing and Fashion Culture"

Image From: Material Boys facebook page


The twitter frenzy off the back of Carvela's newest #LoveMyCarvelas campaign, has left a bad taste in the mouths of some and sparked some reflection on the subject of rebranding, its effectiveness and long term implications.
While some have argued that "it's not that deep" or in favour of brand agency and freedom to market in any way one chooses, others have pointed to the ideas around erasure and disingenuous marketing ploys- all against the backdrop of our insta timelines being filled with local fashionistas in their self styled Carvela ensembles.

Gentrification is a word that comes to mind.

Loosely defined, it involves the "transition of inner-city neighbourhoods from a status of relative poverty and limited property investment to a state of commodification and reinvestment." (Ley, 2003) Typically used to describe the predicament that areas like Brooklyn, New York or closer to home, Woodstock, Cape Town find them selves in, an area once inhabited by a certain group of people is deemed cool or trendy by another more affluent group of people resulting in a wave of new citizens. These citizens bring with them, new shops and restaurants and an aesthetic face lift in order to make the place more palatable to its new market, resulting in a subsequent  rise in property prices which the original inhabitants cannot keep up with. The originals are displaced and forced to relocate as the new cool neighbourhood rises closer and closer towards hipster nirvana. Many of the neighbourhood improvements incentivise the newer crowd while failing to consider the narrative of the former inhabitants. Woodstock's Old Biscuit Mill serves as an example where a market place is created in the middle of an area, but only seems to permit white owned stalls and vendors- excluding and extinguishing, say the family owned business selling frames across the road or local corner cafe. What seems like a wonderful make-over strategy, for a "diamond in the rough" also reveals itself as a mechanism of erasure that only works to benefit a certain group of people.

Image from: @_Thembe twitter page

Perhaps it is then possible to explain this phenomenon in the context of brands.

Brands market and re-market themselves in different ways all the time in the hopes of building a stronger presence and acquiring the loyalty of a certain market. A brand like Carvela may wish to 'improve' itself and appeal to the 'gentry' who earn more. This is evident through aesthetic shifts that are palatable to a different group of people. A clear demonstration is their recent campaign, starring local digital influencers who draw instagram followings in the upper thousands and are popular among the 'middle to upper middle class' youth group. The insta-stars are challenged to post images of themselves dressed in the Carvela shoe and an outfit of their choice, thus integrating the shoe with current fashion trends being absorbed by said group. This all sounds good and well- the perfect strategic move at targeting 'middle-class' generation Z (put it on a blogger!), but it fails to recognise a key thing about the brand that differentiates it from say, a random sneaker of no consequence.

The Carvela, whether the brand chooses to acknowledge this or not, is deeply rooted in South African kasi fashion culture, marking it as an important component of the culture's fashion identity.
Many of the black and coloured youth of this country are privy to this information (including the influencers), either through personal experience of being in the kasi and seeing the sweeping footwear trend for themselves, or through (perhaps sensationalist) news coverage around the Skhothane and Tariana subcultures that have risen and fallen among certain groups in these areas. Complex statistical studies are unnecessary when trying to discern who mostly wears these shoes as it is almost common knowledge among black and coloured folk in this country.

Sure we may argue that Carvela did not choose to have itself associated with these cultures and subcultures, and thus has the autonomy to shift its brand in any direction and cater to any market it chooses. But it is notable to point out the fact that most of the brand's following was generated by way of word of mouth and not formal advertising tactics which were only implemented in 2010 (Mbundu, 2013). Carvela has been cemented as a sign post of style and township fashion culture across South Africa for years- making the brand's most loyal customer as clear as day.

It is thus argued that this attempt at 're-branding' (read: gentrification) is found guilty on account of two things. Erasure and transparent disingenuity.

By completely removing itself from any of its South African context, from its main market and frankly from the champions behind its initial local success, a process of erasure begins where the people's narrative and contribution to the brand is rendered unacknowledged. The brand intentionally, or unintentionally fails to recognise or cater to its main market, choosing rather to "break new ground" with a fickle new market that is simultaneously able to see through this.

Many of the kids to which Carvela attempts to appeal, are well aware of the cultural significance of the shoe. In many cases this means their noses are then turned up at the suggestion of being seen in a pair of Carvelas (which is another discussion in itself). Armed with this knowledge, they are then able to the recognise the shallow attempts at 'market shift' in their direction, through the use of youth influencers who probably were part of the same contingency of youth who do not wear Carvelas prior to being approached by the brand. A cloud of insincerity floats over the whole debacle as people are able to sense the not so innocent behind the scenes of an aesthetically appealing campaign. They know about the main market that is being excluded. They know their intelligence is being undermined in attempts at using bloggers as billboards, which reveals this all to be both hurtful and alienating to the main market and ineffective in snaring the 'new market'.

According to my knowledge, effective market manipulation is not supposed to feel like market manipulation.

But I could be wrong.

I guess we just have to wait and see how influential the influencers are.




References:

Kemp, K. (2015). Exploring the Demise of Skhothane, the Controversial Subculture Destroyed by the Media | VICE | United States. [online] VICE. Available at: http://www.vice.com/read/skhothane-south-africa-karl-kemp-992 [Accessed 10 Sep. 2016].

Ley, D. (2003). Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification. Urban Studies, [online] 40(12), pp.2527-2544. Available at: http://usj.sagepub.com/content/40/12/2527.full.pdf+html [Accessed 10 Sep. 2016].

Mbundu, O. (2013). Carvela shoes: Growing a footprint without advertising. [online] Usb.ac.za. Available at: http://www.usb.ac.za/thoughtprint/Pages/Leader's-Lab.aspx [Accessed 10 Sep. 2016].












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