This post was originally published on PSFK on April 1, 2015. It is presented here in a slightly modified version.
Funny how noticing works. Once you start seeing something, you can’t not see it. Such was the case for me this winter with Canada Goose jackets: One day I took note of the red, white and blue circular patch on the parka’s left shoulder, and almost immediately the coats—which retail for anywhere from $600-$1,200 dollars– seemed to be everywhere.
Why did this brand take off this winter?
Adweek recently suggested it was a confluence of smart influencer marketing and Kate Upton’s Sports Illustrated cover. The brand has become the “(un)official jacket of film crews everywhere it’s cold,” its president Daniel Reiss told the Daily Beast, speaking of the company’s 20-year-plus relationship with Hollywood. Also, it’s the jacket worn by competitors in extreme weather sports, such as the Iditarod dog sled race. Canada is a land that knows a thing or two about cold weather and, since the brand’s founding in 1957, it’s been manufactured there.
Yes, the facts explain the what, but not the why of Canada Goose’s success. I’m going to suggest some cultural factors that coalesced, particularly in NYC, to make 2015 the winter of Canada Goose.
Last Winter Was Brutal
And by that, I mean the winter of 2014. You’ll recall that we had 14 snow storms. Add to that—and this is just my perspective as someone who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio–New Yorkers are generally wimps when it comes to bad weather. The coats were part of winter prepping. Doremus’ Renee Quan-Knowles pointed me to a Business Of Fashion article that noted an overall survivalist trend in mens fashion—perhaps an acknowledgement of extreme weather conditions around the globe–and included Canada Goose in this discussion.
The Artisanal Trend
The artisanal, handmade trend has been embraced in categories ranging from kids clothing to chocolate. Given that, it’s easy to embrace a brand whose heritage is so squarely in this space because the brand aligns with people’s appreciation of hand craftsmanship. It’s also not far-fetched to suggest that the entire artisanal trend is a response to the hyper-digitization we’re living through every day.
The movement towards simplifying one’s life is real, whether it’s digitally or physically. Perhaps people got rid of other coats and invested—that’s what a $600-$1,200 coat is, an investment—in something that they know they’ll have for a long time.
The Exclusivity Vibe
It’s not all about being super-practical. Grey’s Simone Pratt noted that the exclusive is always desirable: “…It is the high price point that makes the brand desirable. That plus the marriage of superlative warmth and elusive price point (#YouCantSitWithUs syndrome).” So, those sporting the ubiquitous circular patch get the added benefit of signaling that they’re part of a club that not everyone can access.
The Coat’s Signifying Power
Diageo’s Calvin Burwell noticed them, and said when he first saw the patches, they reminded him of Boy Scout merit badges or elite outdoorsmen’s clubs. “Could it be that this branding communicates CAPABILITY in an era when consumers in a non-manufacturing economy increasingly wish they could do practical things, like build real fires, shoot real arrows, mush real dogsleds?” he asked. ”Especially for city dwellers, these skills are uncommon and hard to develop—so they function as a new form of social status.”
Stuart Mattson, a freelance planner, offered further explanation: Brands like Canada Goose and Best Made “are not just trendy Bruce Weber fashion statements, but signifiers (to self and others) that I can tough out another polar vortex, global financial meltdown, Walking Dead invasion, etc—and they are also a rejection of superficial, ‘Kardashian’ bling-bling urban values.”
On the other hand, The Talkhouse’s editor-in-chief Michael Azerrad sees the patch tapping into our lionization of authority figures such as firefighters, police and the military. He notes: “After 9/11, people started to fetishize authority. The patches on Canada Goose coats make people look like they’re a border guard for some wintry authoritarian nation. They appear to belong to some sort of vast upscale army. ”
The Force Multiplier Of Success
Winston Ford, an independent digital strategist, has also been tracking the rise of Canada Goose. He says that it’s “become the preferred winter brand for youngsters, and it cuts across race, class, etc.” He’s even stopped people on the street to ask them about the coats.
“After seeing a bunch of teenagers boasting about their Canada Goose on the A train towards Harlem, I can only think that word-of-mouth has a lot to do with the spread of the brand. Everyone who I have talked to have said nothing but good things about the product. Coupling that with repetition from media and seeing the brand label on the street, that creates a powerful marketing machine.”
Should We Blame Drake?
There are a lot of things you could conceivably blame on Drake–he is, after all, Canadian and a highly influential music artist–but this probably isn’t one of them.
I thought strategist Denitria Lewis was joking when she suggested this, but I later found out that Canada Goose has a longstanding relationship with the rapper, going back to before he was the Drake we know today.
The $64,000 Question
Knowing all of the above, can Canada Goose’s marketing success be reverse-engineered for other brands? Not exactly. After all, it’s not like the company wasn’t doing smart marketing prior to the last 12–24 months. Similar to the position the ALS Foundation found itself in when the Ice Bucket Challenge took off, Canada Goose has been smart enough to not get in the way of the momentum. Its heritage, branding, and the Rubik’s Cube-like shift in culture brought together several trends that made it possible for the brand to separate itself from the pack.
Marketers should take note of consumers’ desire to feel more in control. That the Canada Goose brand has become attached to ideas such as preparedness, capability and survivability suggest that there’s an underlying anxiety running through our culture—political unrest, wars, disease, extreme weather, financial uncertainty, digital overload, etc.
The big takeaway: Brands that can help ease these concerns just might be set up for longer term success.
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