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What's in a Name? Not Much, According to Clothes Shoppers

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By SHELLY BRANCH

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Attention Donna, Ralph, Calvin and other runway luminaries: American shoppers, who have increasingly embraced house-brand bargain clothes from places such as Target and Kohl's, say that designer threads are losing some of their appeal.

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As part of a recent survey, Brand Keys , a New York marketing research consultancy, questioned 7,500 apparel customers to determine how their affinity for specific status brands and trademarks has changed in recent years. Fully 57% of respondents said that logos and labels were less important to them today; while 10% said that the symbols were more important than previously. A notable exception: both male and female consumers said that sports logos, including those of national and regional teams, had increased in their esteem. Female consumers -- who traditionally exude more confidence than male shoppers -- were less enthralled by designer names than men. Women were 7.6 times as likely to say that logos and labels were now less important to them.

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The most SEARCH ADVERTISING ARTICLES pronounced Find Advertising articles containing ambivalence toward the following words: designer emblems came from consumers in their Display all Advertising articles 40s and 50s -- an indication that RELATED INDUSTRIES designer-brand • Media & Marketing loyalty diminishes with age. Sixty-nine percent of Personalized Home Page Setup Put headlines on your homepage consumers aged 45about the companies, industries 59 said logos factor and topics that interest you most. "much less" or "less" in their buying habits, compared with 41% of respondents aged 21-34. Within the roughly $166 billion U.S. apparel market, "Logos aren't accounting for as much loyalty and profitability as they used to," says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys . "What you're seeing is a kind of back-to-basics value shift. It's less the actual effect on the pocketbook and more the pride in being a wise consumer." The logo craze was most notable in the 1970s and 1980s, when everything from blue jeans to T-shirts were newly emblazoned with names such as Jordache, Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein. Status marks permeated almost every segment of the fashion market, including teenagers who trolled malls in search of snug-fitting designer jeans, and women and men who shopped department stores for suits of fledgling designers such as Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis.

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But as demographic patterns have shifted, so, too, have people's tastes. "As people get older, their needs and priorities change," says Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group in Upper Montclair, N.J. "When you're in your 20s and 30s, you need to have that famous designer label in you neckline or on your derriere. In your 40s and 50s, suddenly it's [home furnishings] that become more important." Even among young shoppers, say fashion experts, designer names can work against clothing marketers - despite Generation Y's craving for edgy threads. Within the 20-something age group, "A brand can have a limited shelf-life," says analyst Robert Buchanan of A.G. Edwards. "So what's hot today may not be hot tomorrow." In explaining the designer doldrums, some cite the evolution of once-cheesy private-label store brands. "If it's the right look, the right color combinations and the right fit, it doesn't matter if it has a brand name on it or not," Mr. Buchanan says. He adds that any designer backlash could actually benefit department stores -- many of which have devoted the majority of apparel selling space to designer boutiques. "It gives them an opportunity to develop more good products under their own names -- to differentiate their assortments and to achieve better margins," he says. Ad Notes …

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Bryant benched in sneaker game. Adidas-Salomon's decision to end a sponsorship deal with Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant took the shine off the stock Monday, though the move could save the company millions of dollars. After the sportswear maker said it had agreed with Mr. Bryant not to extend the sponsorship contract, Adidas shares sank 3.7% in Frankfurt, ending at 74.66 ($73.97), down 2.84. Adidas has sponsored Mr. Bryant for six years, and has a special line of sneakers and basketball clothing bearing his name. Jan Runau, a spokesman for Adidas, said the company and Mr. Bryant had "differing opinions on how Adidas basketball will develop." In a statement, Mr. Bryant described the parting as amicable. Michael Geiger, an analyst with Credit Suisse in London, says Adidas probably paid Mr. Bryant in the double-digit millions of dollars for his services. That helped put Adidas's marketing budget at around 13% of sales. Sportswear competitor Nike's ad budget is around 10%-11% of sales, Mr. Geiger added. Write to Shelly Branch at [email protected] Updated July 16, 2002

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