Tag Archives: fashion brands

Fifty Shades of Spray: Three Licensing Lessons from the Perfume Range of Zlatan Ibrahimović

With the anterior cruciate ligament injury that he sustained during Manchester United’s ultimately victorious UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg against Belgian heavyweights Anderlecht possessing possibly career-ending properties, now is as good a time as any to consider what post-playing life might begin to look like for Zlatan Ibrahimović (‘Zlatan’, ‘Ibra’). The Swedish icon of Yugoslav descent will indubitably find himself in heavy demand within the world of football; however, whether he takes the familiar paths of management and/or punditry, or forges a yet more interesting second act – perhaps as a Trump-style, Corbyn-substance populist in politics – one thing will remain a constant in Zlatan’s life: licensing.

Ibrahimović has had an interesting collection of commercial partners from relatively early on in his career, but his status is such that in recent years he has transcended the usual celebrity endorsements of shampoos and chocolate bars, instead becoming the focus of a series of Zlatan-flavoured brands, perhaps most notably the Vitamin Well series of sports drinks – a product that he has not shied away from promoting relentlessly.

However, it is Ibrahimović’s latest venture – a line of fragrances concocted in collaboration with Montblanc perfumer Olivier Pescheux – that may turn out to be his most significant foray yet into the broader world of retail, not least because it highlights (and skilfully profits from) a number of societal transformations:

  1. The Reclassification of Football. For the overwhelming majority of its history (one or two key exceptional markets notwithstanding), soccer has been perceived as a largely working-class enterprise. The pitching of Ibrahimović’s perfumes at somewhere north of €50/50ml bottle confirms that the sport has definitively escaped these shackles.
  2. Football’s Feminisation. Ibra’s range of scents is divided neatly into two: the ‘Zlatan’ fragrance for men, and the ‘Supreme’ equivalent for women. The existence of the latter is no accident: football’s transmogrification into a markedly less violent sport from the early 1990s onwards has helped endear it to a new generation of women who are proud to wear a fashion brand co-created by a soccer player.
  3. Global Acceptance. The perfumes’ publicity material directly and prominently refers to Ibrahimović as a ‘world-renowned Swedish football player of Bosnian origin’; in a world where nationalism is gaining in political currency, realities such as this show up the limits of reactionary ideologies. Deepening globalisation is enabled by powerful borderless technologies which cannot be stopped by a wave of the legislative wand; it is essential for both individuals and organisations to contemplate the implications of this fact.

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A Decade of Mission Creep: Avoiding the Prada Paradox

While most people enjoying a few days in an isolated Mediterranean town a few kilometres away from a deserted beach would probably head for some surf rather than read the latest issue of a seminal commerce periodical, for better or for worse Mediolana’s CSO does not fit into this category; his recent, all-too-brief sojourn in Cyprus was dominated inasmuch as anything else by an article from the September 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review by no less a figure than Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada S.p.A. Staying Independent in a Consolidating Industry is an at times astonishingly frank account of the recent milestones and overarching philosophy of one of the global fashion industry’s most celebrated brands; whether one has any direct interest in this sector or not, the piece is well worth a few minutes of anyone’s attention.

A close reading, however, reveals a company that has had more of its fair share of challenges during the past twenty years or so, particularly those relating to its public flotation on the stock exchange, as Bertelli recalls: ‘Originally we planned to go public in Milan in late September 2001, but the 9/11 tragedy, followed by the second Gulf War, the outbreak of SARS, and a global credit crisis, upset our plans. We reacted to these events in a timely and innovative way, seizing new opportunities, and launched our IPO in Hong Kong in June 2011.’

Despite the (perhaps merited) positive spin put on his company’s trajectory by its charismatic CEO, there is no disguising that Prada suffered a ten-year delay in terms of its intended corporate trajectory – and this from a corporation that enjoys the advantages that only hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in annual revenue and thousands of employees may confer. Clearly, there are lessons to learn from this hiatus – but what are they?

1. Plan for External Shocks. Like a great many companies across the economic spectrum, Prada was held back by a number of serious and mostly unexpected events. But beyond a point, should these events really have been so unfathomable? Certainly by the time of the outbreak of the Iraq War, more prescient analysts should have factored the massive reallocation of resources towards military expenditures into their calculations; moreover, was it really inconceivable that the greatest housing bubble of all time (at least, to date) could eventually pop, particularly given the recency of the dotcom bust?

2. Incorporate Change. Bertelli reminisces about the world in the 1990s as ‘a very different place’, and in some ways it indubitably was: most people were not betting their futures on the economic emergence of the BRIC countries, let alone Indonesia or Vietnam. But as any follower of major international football tournaments will tell you, change is something that has to be incorporated into planning. Croatia did not exist as an independent country in 1990, when Yugoslavia were placed fifth at that year’s FIFA World Cup; in the 1998 World Cup, Croatia finished third.

3. Let the Head Rule. Bertelli freely admits his regret that Prada acquired companies where the founding designer was still working as these were extraordinarily difficult entities to manage: ‘It was challenging to even talk to those designers, let alone meet their marketing expectations.’ Years expended on fulfilling the whims of difficult egos could have been spent, as Bertelli acknowledges, on developing Prada S.p.A.’s core brands – and perhaps getting to that magical IPO that bit sooner in the process.

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