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The Ed Hardy Australia Fail

By Simon Dell

There aren’t many brands that command an outpouring of emotion like Ed Hardy Australia. Banks generate hatred through increasing interest rates in the face of static bank rates. BP is a good example of a brand hate campaign; spill that sort of oil over cuddly wildlife and the bile aimed at you is obvious. Lawyers, real estate agents and sometimes even fast food companies all generate their own amount of negative response. And of course, there are hundreds of great example of people loving certain brands. But watching Ed Hardy Australia tumble into administration, there has been an unusual amount of, well, clapping and cheering. People are actually glad to see the back of Ed Hardy Australia. Look at some of the Tweets from Wednesday 11th August, the day they went into administration.

@arozenbachs ‘how will we spot bogans now?’
@Angry0ldMan ‘What will the average Surfers Paradise tramp wear now?’
@markthehulk ‘Thank the good lord that Ed Hardy Australia stores are not going to be around in Sydney any longer.’
@thevike ‘what am I gonna wear when I turn 50 and bleach my hair?’

It goes on. That was in just 20 minutes. And there were very, very few disappointed people to see Ed Hardy Australia go. These weren’t angry old men either (except for Angry0ldMan of course); they were younger, opinion-driving consumers.

So what on earth did Ed Hardy do to generate this emotional response? Well, a few things really.

The Wrong People

Firstly they hung their hats on the wrong people.

Christian Audigier, licensee of the rights to produce the Ed Hardy brand, has had success before – significantly with Von Dutch – and employed the same marketing technique with Ed Hardy: marketing direct to celebrities.

Sadly though the icons they choose to ‘sponsor’ were washed out sports stars or unsuccessful Australian gangsters. The former tend to generate ridicule, especially when they move into politics or porn. And whilst the general public have a fascination for Australian gangsters via Underbelly, the Australian belief of a ‘fair go’ shows that eventually criminal fashion goes six feet under. This is, after all, a country of kangaroos, BBQs and beaches, not drive-bys and Tec-9s.

The result of these associations meant that a certain ‘type’ of Australian society member tended to gravitate towards wearing Ed Hardy clothes, and probably not the members of society whose sense of style and fashion the rest of society wanted to replicate. Those wearing the clothes became labelled very, very quickly with very, very derogatory words.

The Price

Secondly price was an issue. They were a ‘street wear’ brand, intrinsically linked with tattoo culture, but the average shirt was $200. And by that I mean a t-shirt, which, when washed, expanded beyond its original size and faded badly. It went from brand new vintage to very vintage, vintage in the space of a few spins of the delicates cycle. The quality just simply didn’t match the price.

The Designs

Next was design. Ed Hardy Australia had such a distinct design that you could see them coming a mile off. And couple that with the first issue, this meant that people wearing Ed Hardy clothing, stood out like a sore thumb. Those with tattoos often complain that they’re unfairly negatively judged because of those tattoos. Sure those with full sleeves might be genuinely nice people but we all know that level of ink generates a certain sense of fear and, right or wrong, they knew that before they sat down in the chair. People wearing Ed Hardy all of a sudden realised the same thing. Except, unlike a sleeve tattoo, you could take a t-shirt off.

On The Fence

If you look at Jean Paul Gautier’s aftershaves, there’s no denying a strong homosexual theme in the communications, but they still attract straight male purchasers. But Ed Hardy’s designs were frequently labelled as ‘gay’ without directly communicating that. Subsequently there was a sneaking suspicion by male owners of their fashion items that they did actually look gay in the clothes. The macho Australian male psyche that lets idiots like Jason Akermanis argue there’s no room for homosexuality in AFL does still get a bit worried about how they look in public. And feeling like they might be on the wrong side of the fence gave them a sense of disquiet. And if the target market is uncertain about the sexuality of the brand, they won’t engage. With no core target market engaging, there’s no market at all.

Brand Extensions

Ed Hardy Australia also branched out into different areas. One of those was energy drinks. I remember visiting the Surfers Paradise store and there was a little fridge packed with mini cans of Ed Hardy energy drinks. The point? Well, none whatsoever. There was no core strategy behind launching them into the mainstream (or if there was, it was very well hidden) and it was tenuous to see the link between a fashion brand and an energy drink. Well, not that tenuous actually but really, why launch a brand off-shoot into an incredibly busy and competitive market where you’re faced with Red Bull, Mother and V, just to name a few? The words ‘doomed’ and ‘failure’ spring to mind.

Not ‘Me Too’

It also became very obvious of the limited appeal that Ed Hardy Australia held when the major department stores held stock of ‘me too’ brands for a very limited time. One minute they were there, and then they were gone. If Myer and David Jones couldn’t see a market there for them to mimic, it was probably a good signal that the consumer was tired of the brand.

There are lots of lessons to be learnt here. But my personal favourite and the most important here is about aspiration. Consumers want to aspire to something. A new car. A new home. Even beer companies use aspirational people in their adverts – people we want to be, not people we are. Ed Hardy failed by linking their brand to people we didn’t want to be. Australian consumers don’t hang the same importance on celebrity style that other cultures and countries do and when those people haven’t really done anything for Australian’s to be proud of, there’s little chance of their face selling anything.

Deloitte will be trawling through the Ed Hardy Australia business to see what they can salvage. Unfortunately it probably won’t be many friends.

The artitcle first appeared in TwoCents Blog by Simon Dell on November 10, 2010.