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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
A New Twist on the Genuine Article
President, Wrangler International
Ron Currie, Jr.
Principal, Deadbeat Deity Marketing Strategies, LLC
1. Situation Analysis
Since the mid-1970s, Wrangler International has ceded every denim-buying demographic aside from middle-aged white men who watch NASCAR, pronounce the “t” in “Merlot,” and enjoy thinking of themselves as self-made individualists despite the fact that most of them carry more debt than they could pay off in three lifetimes. Long gone are the days when Newsweek coined the word “teenager” in a cover story featuring a photo of a young woman clad in Wranglers (though to be fair, long gone, too, are the days of Newsweek). Since then, Wrangler has lost considerable market share to other major-brand manufacturers, including Levi Strauss and Lee, as well as to boutique premium denim manufacturers such as Calvin Klein, Gucci, and Ellen Fisher. Rather than attempt to diversify its offerings, though, Wrangler has instead opted to retreat to white male values voters and defend this haven tooth and nail.
The resources expended on protecting this already-safe portion of the market are vast and unjustifiable. Great sums of money have been paid to spokesmen such as Brett Favre and Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as on sponsorships with the National Barrel Horse Association, Miss Rodeo America, and the World Series of Team Roping. We believe that an innovative new product line, coupled with a bold marketing plan, will break Wrangler out of the white trash ghetto it has relegated itself to, and position the brand for steady growth well into the 21st century—as well as giving it the opportunity to play the role of good corporate citizen by helping out in the War on Homelessness.
Today’s young consumers crave authenticity. Unfortunately, authenticity takes time, and who has enough of that to sit around waiting for authenticity to show up? No one, that’s who. There’s a hot DJ at the club tonight, and if you’re going to make the scene you need a pair of well-worn jeans tonight, not in two years when you’ve gone to the trouble of wearing them in yourself. Sure, prior to the 1990s people often wore in their own jeans, but that was before inventions like jobs, telephones, and children came along and started making us all so very, very busy. Denim manufacturers other than Wrangler recognized that their customers wanted jeans that looked like they’d owned them for years, but were far too busy to actually own jeans for years. Their solution? They began selling jeans that were ready to be turned in to Goodwill the moment one paid for them. Blown out knees, wallet holes in back pockets, and eroded dyes became the industry standard. For two decades, these products have dominated the 18-29 demographic, across genders. But they have one fatal weakness, a weakness that Wrangler is poised to exploit.
Remember what we said a moment ago, about authenticity? What’s authentic about a pair of jeans that have been worn in by a machine? The answer: nothing. Nothing at all. And today’s savvy young consumers know this, even if they won’t admit it to themselves. They experience a niggling dismay every time they look at the too-symmetrical abrasion on their right-hip pocket or, worse, discover that one of their friends has the exact same hole in the exact same spot on her Levi’s. Alas, no one has yet offered them a more genuine alternative to these tragedies of automation, so they continue to buy what’s on offer and cross their fingers that they won’t encounter the rare soul who thinks buying pants with holes already in them is kind of stupid.
Wrangler’s objective will be to offer these busy young adults jeans that have been worn in not by machines, but by actual human beings.
3. Product Design and Development
Wrangler’s new label, HOBO, will be moderately priced for sale at discount retailers and department stores. The production of HOBO jeans will require no retrofitting of Wrangler’s current manufacturing facilities, thus making the implementation of the line that much more appealing from a fiscal perspective. HOBO jeans will begin their lives as regular Wranglers—same style, cut, fit, and coloration. Here’s the innovative part: once the jeans are completed, they will then be distributed to shelters across the United States and given to the homeless, who will sign contracts agreeing to return the jeans to Wrangler after one year.
Imagine all the authentic wear-and-tear those jeans will be subjected to during 365 days of dumpster diving, huddling on sewer vents, and sleeping in the mud under highway overpasses! When they’re returned, the HOBOs will be deloused and steam-sanitized to remove microbes and odors—because let’s face it, the smell of the average homeless person is way too authentic, even for today’s hip young consumers—and then packaged and shipped for retail sale. In this way, Wrangler can offer its customers one-of-a-kind custom jeans for a discount price, maintain the profit margin on the sale of a regular pair of Wranglers, and clothe the least fortunate among us, all at the same time!
4. Possible Amendments/Additions
A) Though this would result in a marginal increase in production costs, it may be necessary to offer some sort of incentive for the homeless to actually return their HOBOs upon completion of the contract period. The incentives would be small and inexpensive, obviously, since as anyone who’s given a sidewalk panhandler fifty cents can tell you, it doesn’t take much to make them happy. Think bottles of Thunderbird wine, clean tube socks, etc.
B) We are pondering the use of a swatch of each homeless person’s hair as an authenticity assurance; this hair would be included in a pouch sewn to the inside of the HOBOs, much like the small pouches that hold spare buttons.
C) One particularly intrepid member of our team has suggested creating a premium-priced offshoot of HOBO called HIT-AND-RUNs. This is a product designed to appeal to teenage children of wealthy parents, a demographic that, owing to its age and comfortable circumstances, has a generally higher appreciation for casual cruelty than the median (think of the kids who created BUMFIGHTS videos a decade ago, plying homeless men with alcohol and cash to induce them to assault one another for the camera). As of now we’re still working out legal speculations, as well as profit models, but initial research indicates that HIT-AND-RUNs could sell for around $250, which would make them competitive in the premium denim retail environment.
5. Advertising Strategy
The advertising strategy for HOBO will consist primarily of a focus on brand attribute differentiation. The objective is to highlight for consumers the differences between HOBO jeans and the jeans they’re currently wearing, and entice them to switch brand loyalties. There are two main elements:
A) HOBO’s authentic wear-in process v. competitor’s uniform, automated process.
B) The socially responsible aspect of HOBO production v. competitor’s superficial attempts at social responsibility, e.g. organic cotton.
Advertisements in print, television, theatrical previews, and social media will all utilize the same list of HOBO’s brand-specific attributes:
A) Each pair is one of a kind.
B) HOBO jeans make me feel good
C) I’m an individual again.
D) Great to wear every day—just ask the folks who made them!
E) I don’t have to worry about ruining my HOBOs, because they’re already ruined!
We think you’ll agree that HOBO presents a unique opportunity for Wrangler International to revolutionize the denim market, not to mention the very concept of corporate responsibility. And we eagerly await your reply.
Ron Currie, Jr. is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is “Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles.” He lives in Maine.