This week, an in-depth look at the current go-to gaming strategies of fashion brands.

Kenneth Cole gets in on the gaming opportunity

On Thursday, fashion brand Kenneth Cole made its first foray into the mobile gaming realm via the debut of its takeover of the game High Heels! Through the first half of June, players of the popular game, by social game developer Zynga, will be able to dress their avatars in head-to-toe styles from the brand’s Pride 2021 collection. 

Since January, the High Heels! app has been downloaded more than 60 million times, according to Zynga. The popularity of the game, in which players collect high heels to get taller and dodge various obstacles on a virtual runway, has been fueled by TikTok. Posts of people playing the game have gone viral, attracting upward of 4.5 million views. 

“The partnership is all about celebrating our differences and promoting acceptance and inclusion,” said Kenneth Cole, chairman and chief creative officer of Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. Among the five styles featured in the game is a T-shirt with a rainbow graphic that reads, “Being different is what we have in common.”

The styles will be “surfaced to players immediately when they start playing the game,” according to Bernard Kim, Zynga’s president of publishing. Both Kenneth Cole and Zynga plan to promote the collaboration across digital marketing channels. 

The collaboration marks the first brand partnership for High Heels!, though Kim noted that “there is huge potential and a market for fashion in gaming.” 

“Players love the ability to stylize and customize their experience, from creating in-game avatars to personalizing game boards,” he said. 

Kenneth Cole has been supporting equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community with dedicated Pride styles “for decades,” said Cole. Starting in 2017, it expanded beyond T-shirts to sneakers with a rainbow stripe, and it’s added new styles every year. Currently, for every Pride product purchased on its e-commerce site, 1% of the retail price is donated to the Mental Health Coalition, founded by Cole in May 2020. 

“We hope that High Heels! gamers become Kenneth Cole shoppers after learning more about the brand through our partnership,” said Cole. 

Kim said that Zynga has seen “heightened levels of player engagement and social connection throughout [its] portfolio” over the past year, with people staying at home. Zynga is also behind games including Words With Friends and Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, which together are played in 150 countries.

Case Study: How Kappa used an esports collab to drive sales and awareness

Dre Hayes, president of Kappa North America, broke down the brand’s pre-pandemic collaboration (late 2019) with esports team FaZe Clan. 

The audience: Far beyond ‘gaming nerds’
“Gaming is big. It’s the streaming, the personalities — these kids have huge followings. These are guys that have never been professional gamers — they’re Twitch stars, YouTube stars. You know, you always used to think: gaming nerds. But now everybody plays games; 47% of gamers are women. And, really, a lot of these kids are cool; they’re streetwear kids, they’re fashion kids. And that meant that there was an opportunity, there was a market. They were already wearing Kappa, and they already love the brand.”

The opportunity: White space in marketing
“There wasn’t any major [fashion] collaboration with an esport team prior to us [teaming with] FaZe Clan. FaZe Clan is a lifestyle organization, but I [consider] esports to be part of sports. It’s a lifestyle sport, and there’s something cool about it. Meanwhile, Kappa is a heritage sportswear brand, and it’s going to be hard for [us] to compete with the Nikes and the Adidas and the Pumas [of the world]. We’re a billion-dollar brand, but we’re a smaller guy. So I have to be nimble and cut through the noise. When Nike or Adidas comes into esports — really comes in, really wants to play — it’s over. So I needed to get in [there] first.”

The original plan: Esports team sponsorship
“I was actually trying to do a deal with FaZe Clan, where we would be the sponsor of their esport team. To sell them on the idea, I told them they could be like the Oregon Ducks. Everybody who watches college sports knows the Oregon Ducks have the best uniforms. Nike makes them a ton of different uniforms, and it helps them with recruiting; people want to go play there just so they could wear the uniforms. I said that, even though we’re a larger sportswear brand, we’re small and we’re nimble. We would have flexibility. We could do four different jerseys, and track [suits] and apparel — we really could have turned it up. Normally, when you work with one of the larger companies, there are more politics that go into it. In the end, we couldn’t get that [deal] done. FaZe Clan was growing, and they had taken investment. They were selling spots just to be on their jersey. G Fuel was one of their biggest sponsors, and they paid millions, Nissan was on their jersey, too.” 

The final partnership: Lifestyle product collaboration
“I saw an opportunity for us to at least do something [with them] on the lifestyle side. We [ended up doing] tracksuits, jerseys, fleece, tees, shorts, slides, a duffel bag. Product is king — and the product looked so good, it transcended gaming. We had a FaZe Clan logo [on the pieces], but some people who bought it maybe didn’t even know what FaZe Clan was. 

It wasn’t about streetwear collectability, Kappa is not really a hype-driven brand. There’s a lot of FaZe Clan fans, and they’re the customer that really wanted it. We did a campaign shoot with several members of the team, and there was a billboard in L.A. And FaZe Clan had also secured a pop-up in L.A., and we were the first [product] release there.” 

The results: Big sales, eventually
“[The collection] sold through. The buy at retail was a couple of million dollars, so it was very large. It was the largest project FaZe Clan had done to date, and it was all controlled by them. The only place you could buy it was either at their pop-up activation or on FaZeClan.com.

But it took longer [than expected] to sell because it was much more expensive than anything FaZe Clan had put out. Some items were double the price. In gaming, up until that time, all of the product that teams were putting out was really inexpensive — too inexpensive, I thought. Meanwhile, the customer was going to Pacsun and Zumiez and spending $80-$90 on brands like Diamond Supply Co., The Hundreds and HUF. I told [FaZe Clan] that if they wanted to be this premium brand that transcends gaming as a lifestyle brand, then they needed to make sure they had a premium-level product. If you’re going to be the Supreme of gaming, you’ve got to act like it. And so the evolution started to happen, and they have raised their prices some. They’ve since done many collaborations — Champion [in December 2019] was pretty big for them. ”

The lesson learned: Streamers (not pro gamers) are the keys to success
“I truly believe the best, most impactful angle [in esports for brands] right now is the lifestyle angle. Unless you’re in Asia. I’m having a hard time understanding the [advantage of having a presence in the] competitive part. There are a lot of brands trying to get into [esports] and they’re like, ‘We need to be around [the] competitive [aspect].’ But they’re learning: ‘This isn’t where it is.’ It really is [about] the streaming side. Getting in early allowed us to see that before, and examine it and figure it out.”

3 questions with Drest founder Lucy Yeomans

We asked Lucy Yeomans, founder of styling game Drest, to give an update on fashion fans’ adoption of the app that launched in late 2019.

What evidence have you seen that fashion has further embraced gaming in 2021?
“[It’s obvious] in the sheer number of fashion partnerships we’ve seen in the gaming space, which speaks to the unique discovery and engagement offered by these environments. We’re working on successive projects with brands such as Gucci, who are pioneers in the fashion and gaming arena, [plus we’re] seeing increasing demand from established brands who previously wanted to wait and see how the space developed. In fact, the challenge we face right now is finding time to accommodate all of them.”

What trends are you seeing among Drest gamers?
“Our [app] user is our constant source of inspiration, education and motivation. We learn from them every day, as we’re in constant contact — asking questions, listening and acting on their feedback. They don’t ‘play’ Drest like a traditional game. [Instead] they view it as a platform for discovery, entertainment and style inspiration — a creative outlet. As a result, the time they spend with us is increasing. Our most engaged users are spending as much as 33 minutes a day [on the app].”

To what extent has Drest been successful at driving sales for the brands on the app?
“Our [users] do a huge amount of the work for us in inspiring other users. Clicking on any look created in the game shows all of the items featured so that other users can add them to their wishlist, tap to purchase them virtually, or connect to Farfetch or one of our brands directly to purchase the pieces in real life. They can also add a piece to their Drest Wardrobe and monitor how many times they style it in virtual outfits, to understand whether [a piece] will be a valuable addition to their IRL closet. 

We also see incredible engagement with our brand partnerships, where users engage with a brand’s advertising content and then create looks based around specific requirements. We have been conducting regular research with our users as part of these campaigns, enabling us to see that the majority of them are more likely to purchase [included] items after styling with them on Drest.”

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