America's 'First Lady' of fashion gives labels €2.bn boost
Forget advertising in glossy magazines, gushing celebrity endorsements or the creation of an exclusive, hush-hush cult of desirability. The latest and greatest marketing technique is simple, in theory: get Michelle Obama to wear your clothes.
It's easier said than done, of course -- but if you can pull it off, the impact is extraordinary. And now the numerical evidence for something that every brand consultant has known in their bones is in. An analyst at the Stern School of Business in New York has assessed the effect the First Lady brings to the designer labels that she is seen in, and worked out that the total economic benefit that she has brought to her chosen brands is around $2.7bn (€1.93bn). Not since Imelda Marcos has a political wardrobe come under so much scrutiny.
The study, published in the 'Harvard Business Review' this week, found that a company's stock experienced an enormous upward spike after Mrs Obama was seen wearing its clothes.
This comes as no surprise to a society of savvy shoppers bombarded with celebrity "get the look" features in magazines, but the findings speak for themselves. Brands worn by Mrs Obama rose by 2.3pc, while those not hanging in her closet were down 0.4pc; this is much more significant an effect than any old starlet in fancy jeans.
Professor of Finance David Yermack cites 189 public appearances between November 2008 and December 2009 in which Mrs Obama wore pieces by 29 listed companies, including Calvin Klein, Nina Ricci, Gap and J Crew. He estimates that a single appearance by the First Lady can generate up to $14m (€10m) alone, either for the label itself or for the chain of shops which stocks it.
One of the biggest success stories is the American retailer J Crew. In January 2009, the Obamas' two daughters wore coats from the shop to watch their father being sworn in, while their mother clutched his copy of the Lincoln bible, upon which he swore the presidential oaths, in green leather gloved hands, also from the store. The next morning, the gloves section of the J Crew website had crashed; the entire womenswear site later ceased to function.
Her secret lies in her authenticity -- as a figure on the political periphery, she is imbued with an almost moral standing that other figures in the fashion arena are not. Consumers realise that wearing these pieces is not her job, as it is for the models in the adverts, for example; and that she buys her clothes for the same reasons we do -- because they are necessary, comfortable, practical and because she likes the way they look.
The First Lady is also known for her reliable fashion sense, having showcased a variety of pieces that suggest a certain amount of industry knowledge. Not so insider as to put people off, but frostings of designer accessories all paired with high street items to create the ultimate wardrobe to which the woman in the street can aspire.
Professor Yermack's study also considers Mrs Obama's French counterpart, Carla Bruni. But Ms Bruni is usually seen in high-end designer labels, so she does not have the same consumer appeal or economic impact.
Mr Obama has often spoken about how much he relies on his wife; it seems the rest of his country does too, whether it's style advice they're looking for or a fiscal stimulus. (© Independent News Service)