A veteran of the fashion industry and CEO of Iconix Brand Group, which owns, licenses and markets a growing portfolio of consumer brands including Rampage, Candie’s and Bongo, Neil Cole knows the importance of creating and reinforcing brand image. “It’s all about building excitement around the brand,” Cole emphasizes. Indeed, over the years, Cole has created quite a stir with innovative and off-beat advertising campaigns, including one that featured notorious personalities such as Marla Maples, one-time wife of Donald Trump, and Donna Rice, during her involvement in the late ’80s with presidential hopeful Gary Hart. But perhaps his most outrageous campaign occurred in 1997. “We owned Candie’s [the shoe company] at that point and needed to make money,” Cole explains. “So I brought TV funny girl Jenny McCarthy on board and created a series of now infamous advertisements, with her positioned on a toilet wearing nothing but Candie’s. It did create excitement and a lasting impression.”
In fact, Cole feels leveraging celebrity names with brands can be a very successful marketing tool. “We have had great response at Iconix by associating celebrity names with our various brands,” he says. “And the Internet has helped us enormously. Endorsement from celebrities receives a lot of coverage on blogs. We also try to get products placed on as many celebrities as possible, not just those endorsing a brand. Any thing that gets the brand recognition in the mass media—including editorial exposures in fashion magazines, which is very effective—helps create a sense of excitement and gives the brand credibility.”
Rampage is carrying on the tradition of leveraging celebrities. As of April 2009, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen is the new face of the brand.
Established in 1982, the Rampage Clothing Company is a highly recognizable, in-demand brand designed for the sexy, young, modern woman, who keeps up with trends and is also looking for her own style. The largest retail partner for the brand since it beginning has been Macy’s, Cole notes. “We have a strong following of loyal customers who trust us to give them the product they want and expect at affordable prices. And they count on us to stay on trend and offer good value,” Cole says.
“Our customers are working women, single moms, college girls and college grads, and lots of teenagers because they want to look like their older sisters. But Rampage has a following that goes beyond age. We now also have older consumers who have grown up with us and stay with us because everyone wants to be young and cool,” says Cole.
Rampage product categories include dresses, denim, sportswear, sleepwear, belts, handbags, small leather goods, hosiery, cold weather accessories, jewelry, fragrances, kids and, since the beginning of this year, an ophthalmic eyewear collection under a licensing agreement with Viva International Group. The Rampage brand is sold worldwide in more than 12 countries.
When expanding the brand, Cole says it was logical to turn to eyewear. “It’s a perfect match for our brand. Good glasses are an amazing accessory. They add another layer of who you are to the wearer and help round out our product line.
“Because we have a long relationship with Viva [the company has eyewear licenses for two other Iconix brands: Candie’s and Bongo], we immediately turned to Viva for the Rampage Eyewear collection,” Cole explains. “Viva is a great company to work with and a great partner for us.”
The eyewear line, like the other product categories in the brand, is targeted to women 16 to 35, who are fashion conscious and attune to top trends. “The detailing and styling of the eyewear capture the true essence of the brand. Each color, material and design element reflect the playful, fashionable look of the Rampage woman,” Cole notes. “Additionally, the frames are affordable—most retail for around $100—which is great in the current economy. Also because it’s a new license for Rampage, it’s another way to create a sense of excitement around the brand.”
To build brand excitement, Cole encourages optical retailers to use lifestyle images associated with the brand. “Just showing 30 glasses on a frame board is boring. Consumers relate to lifestyle images—they add flavor,” he says. He feels optical shops would benefit from using videos to support brands.
To keep image consistent through all product categories, Cole has a central fashion team that travels the world and works with various product designers. “We create a trend book for every season for all the designers to use. We also have licensee meetings so the design directors from all our licensees can see what the others are doing. It is essential to keep the DNA of the brand intact,” Cole emphasizes.
And if Cole were not building brand excitement at Iconix, what career path would he like to follow? “I would like to be a rock star,” he says emphatically. “But since I have no musical skills—I don’t play any instruments, I can’t sing—it would probably be more practical for me to promote and market music and the music world.”