Jason Beckley on Alfred Dunhill
JASON BECKLEY, THE VISION OF VOICE
Debuting at Bourdon House, London, of the men’s-only luxury goods maker’s four global homes, Alfred Dunhill;s Spring/Summer 2011 menswear collection proved its most critically acclaimed lines to date. While receiving accolades for returning to the principles upon which it built its sterling reputation—impeccable English tailoring and hand craftsmanship of the finest materials—Dunhill was breaking new ground with an array of equally refined digital campaign focused on introducing the brand to a new generation of customers, ranging from Day 9, a customized platform similar to a blog, to World Cup-inspired video games. Whitewall discussed how technology has reinvigorated the prestigious one-hundred-year-old company, and vice versa, how it is tailoring its digital domain, with Dunhill’s global marketing director, Jason Beckley.
WHITEWALL: The “Voice’ campaign and Day 8 have both been extremely successful, and yet each is quite counterintuitive in its own way. First, how did “Voice,” the series of black-and-white portraits that began with the violinist Charlie Siem, the artist Harland Miller, and the journalist Sir David Frost talking about their lives and experiences, come to be?
JASON BECKLEY: The idea of “Voice” arrived after watching Frost/Nixon on a flight from Japan, and those two brilliant minds at war but with this common goal to get to some kind of truth for both of them. “Voice” came around the idea of conversation and definitive personalities, people who really define themselves by what they do and what they stand for, that being a principal goal of masculinity. That’s why it was so great when Sir David Frost said that he would be in it.
WW: In addition to being multi-generational and taking such a minimal approach, what’s particularly striking about “Voice” is that you know each man is wearing a Dunhill outfit of his own choosing, but nothing more.
JB: Yes, we removed color and we removed situation, and when you take away these elements, you create an intense focus. Those are the kind of men that everyone can look up to—Charlie Siem is 25 years old, but his dedication is incredible and his ability is incredible, so I look up to him. Harlan Miller and Sir David are people that are very easy to admire from any angle. But “Voice” isn’t really a fashion campaign in any way, shape, or form. That is, we don’t try and sell anything; there’s no, “Must have this suit.” Of course, the products are ours, but we don’t at any point try to push them.
WW: On that note, much has been written this past year about Dunhill’s disinterest in Facebook and Twitter. What is Dunhill’s attitude toward those networks now?
JB: We are interested in Facebook, but we would rather have 10 people who love our brand than a million people we’ve seduced into being our friends. The question is, how do you measure digital success? Measurability of digital success is a new thing, and with Day 9, we have a simple way of measuring it, and that’s reach. We think that Day 9, so far, has reached 40 million people.
WW: Interestingly, Day 8, which functions much like an in-house blog, does not offer any means of notification, neither subscription nor updates, beyond Dunhill’s Facebook posts. Furthermore, Day 8’s navigation had been criticized for its separate from Dunhill’s retail site. What is the reasoning here?
JB: You’re right, Day 8 is deliberately reclusive in many ways. Also, there are other parts of it that are deliberately broken in terms of social media. We have share-ability, but we don’t have comment-ability or allow contribution, and social platforms are principally built on these foundations. We wanted it to be somewhere trustworthy, where there is no transaction-ability. Day 9 is no there to push products, it’s there to reinforce a cultural positioning and the aesthetic value of our brand.
Now our ambition for Day 9 is that it becomes more ofa forum. Since our brand has such brilliant geographical mix, we want to start using Day 8 as a platform to look into the creative output of other nationalities and other countries, to see it as a global cultural site.
WW: Dunhill venture into gaming during the last World Cup. Tested in Japan, and accessed through Dunhill’s website, one of the grand prizes of this football-inspired video game was an exclusive chance to purchase an official Japanese team tie, which soon became Dunhill’s best-selling necktie. Aside form commercial success, what is the appeal of gaming?
JB: I’m interested in the idea that people prefer play time to work time. So, if you want to really engage with people, it’s better to engage with them around something fun, that they enjoy doing. We launched the video game in Japan for many reasons, but one became an isolated market would bbe quite a good test, and the response was phenomenal. It’s quite interesting in terms of how to build play into luxury, because those two things haven’t really met before.
WW: In addition to gaming, “Voice,” and Day 8, Dunhill has launched a YouTube channel. What other platforms are of interest?
JB: I love Tumblr, because it’s such simplified Internet, more formatted in a way to how China or Japan Internet work than Western Internet. Tumblr embraces the best of both formats and is something that will resonate globally.
We’re relaunching Dunhill soon in January, and as a platform, we’re going to launch something on our own website that will be about very high quality, but transactional—focus video or transactional-focus image, which will mean Day 9 is further freed from the idea that i’s There to generate money, because it’s categorically not. I’m frustrated by the industry’s adoption of digital technology purely around the idea of generating sales. I find it a bit crass in many respects, because there is opportunity ohave something running that is twenty-fur-seven, three-six-five, in which people can appraise you on your brand’s aesthetic value, and that’s really important. The great thing is that luxury brands aren’t just pushing their own product , they’re pushing their opinions, and I think that’s something they we should embrace.