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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Are they too young?

GLADYS CHUNG asks branding experts about the pros and cons of using teens in ads for luxe brands
The Straits Times - July 22, 2011
By: Gladys Chung
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Are they too young?

The slew of ad campaigns by top luxury houses fronted by baby-faced models this season seems to depict an alternate universe where teenagers can afford clothing, bags and shoes that cost an arm and a leg.

American designer Marc Jacobs pushed legal working age boundaries by featuring 13-year-old actress Elle Fanning in the latest campaign for his diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Dressed in vintage-style outfits - complete with midi-length dresses, socks and cat-eye glasses - Fanning recalls the dame of baby-granny chic, celebrity American fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, 15.

Five years ago, Jacobs featured Fanning's elder sister Dakota, then 12, in a similar series of whimsical ads for his main line.

Over at Miu Miu, the fresh-faced American actress Hailee Steinfeld, 14, holds court in the brand's fall/winter 2011 campaign. She is dressed in glamorous, embellished knee-length dresses that are more suitable for someone at least twice her age.

In its take on the fantasy, Prada's latest campaign images remind one of young girls playing dress-up with their mother's furs, knee-high python skin boots, expensive handbags and sequinned dresses. Then, when they tire of it, they lounge on the couch in their finery to watch MTV. The five models - Frida Gustavsson, Kelly Mittendorf, Julia Zimmer, Ondria Hardin and Antonia Wesseloh - are all about 18.

The list goes on: Burberry has made 16-year-old model Molly Smith the star of its latest trench coat ads; while another 16-year-old, Nyasha Matonhodze, a Britain-based model born in Zimbabwe, is one of the new faces for Louis Vuitton.

THE ALLURE OF YOUTH

Using young models in fashion campaigns and editorial spreads is not new (see below).

It is not much of a stretch to see the marketer's logic in selling consumers a dream of eternal youth.

Mr Ben Lightfoot, the chief executive of marketing communications company McCann Worldgroup Singapore, says: 'Although it may appear a bit unusual to use teenagers in ads targeted at wealthier mature women, it may actually strike at the heart of their burning desire to look and feel young again.'

But the almost concerted effort by luxury brands to use very young faces in the same season is unprecedented.

Mr Lightfoot thinks this could be due to the 'changing notion of age in today's society'.

'One's age no longer defines their level of experience, intellectual maturity or capability,' he says. 'We've seen how talented young university students have started businesses that have grown into something as big as Facebook and how youthful some 50-year-olds can look.'

As Ms Wileen Chen, a 29-year-old marketing manager who owns three Miu Miu and four Prada bags, says: 'My buying decision will not be affected by the recent ads because I already have a positive impression of the brands and I'm more concerned about the design of the bags.'

The fact that the young will be the consumers of tomorrow is another reason luxury brands use young faces to hawk their goods, adds Mr Graham Hitchmough, managing director of brand consultancy The Brand Union Singapore.

'Having a brand icon that they can relate to might help to set their luxury brand preferences at an early age.'

Having a fresh face front campaigns may be another way to get more bang for the buck, he notes.

Younger stars are less exposed and thus 'provide a more cost-effective image that can be owned', he says.

However, not everyone agrees that using teens to sell luxury products is a good move.

Says Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami of marketing practice at the Singapore Management University: 'Teenagers should, at best, be modelling products for those their age and not overtly conveying an image of sensuality to older consumers,' he says.

Ms Kerensa Ang, 41, the head of marketing at a property firm who owns five bags from brands like Dior and Gucci, agrees. She was put off by the Miu Miu and Marc by Marc Jacobs ads fronted by Fanning and Steinfeld.

'I find the use of young girls in those images exploitative. I look for sophistication in luxury ads and there's a disconnect for me when I look at those pictures,' she says.

'I will not buy from those brands as I do not aspire to look like a 13-year-old.'

 

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