French Connection assigned top ad man Trevor Beattie, now a partner of Beattie McGuinness Bungay, to rebrand French Connection to the world and, for their Winter 1997 campaign, he did just that. Faxes sent from offices in Hong Kong read “FCHK to FCUK” with the later of the acronyms standing for “French Connection United Kingdom” (1). Beattie saw the opportunity to bring widespread media attention to the brand along with rebranding and redefining what the company stood for using this simple acronym. Thus, FCUK, as we now know it, was born.
As we all know, the campaign became ubiquitous and infamous. French Connection were lovely enough to send me their Media Resources Pack which states that press cover, as a result of the controversial campaign, aided an 81% increase in profit.
However, not everyone was happy about it. The ASA website (2) reports there being 26 complaints for this particular campaign and state that it was initially banned. French Connection noted a 31% increase in their season’s profit as a direct result of the campaign and the subsequent ban.
The success the brand received was further built upon through sponsorship. The company sponsored Lennox Lewis during his Heavyweight Champion of the World title fight against Evander Hollyfield in the same season as the new campaign was first released. With Lewis wearing the French Connection brand and even appearing in an advert where his clothes read “fcuk fear”, the company received a big boost in terms of coverage (3).
French Connection’s controversial campaign grabbed headlines across the world on television, in papers and online. This was seemingly prophesied by Dave Saunders who stated that “by making the advertisement itself deliberately provocative, you are assured media coverage,” (Saunders, D., 1996) (4).
But is all news good news?
Almost a decade went by and analysts began to question the brand, declaring the “fcuk” trademark to now be overused and sterile. This prompted a much needed response from the clothing giant but one which, sadly, seemed to miss the mark. Duncan Jones, the British director of modern sci-fi classical ‘Moon’, directed the ad which saw two women fighting and then kissing as part of French Connection’s ‘Fashion vs. Style’ campaign in 2006. It was met with poor response.
This advert, as with the initial rebranding campaign, caused controversy but this failed to get people back into the stores. The company reported their first loss in fourteen-years (4) and profits were down by almost £7 million (6).
The company’s losses, of course, may be a attributed to alternate reasons such as the company executive, Stephen Marks, selling his majority stake to fund a £9 million divorce from his wife, Alisia, (7). Moreover, French Connection has been criticised for its high price items during a time when shoppers are venturing to stores that offer better value for their money such as Primark (6). This is validated by A.D. Farbey who stated that “Advertisements can’t overcome poor price, poor quality,” (1998, How to Produce Successful Advertising, Krogan Press) (8).
More recently, French Connection have had to sell womenswear business Nicole Farhi to wipe out losses of £8.8 million. This will coincide with the company closing seventeen of its loss-making stores in the US leaving just six remaining. Stephen Marks feels that this “will enable the group to return to profitability in the near future,” (9).
Fast forward to 2010 and French Connection might be setting the stage for a comeback. The company, with help from the artistic aficionados and advertising adepts – Fallon, have gone back to their French roots and set the simple idea of addressing both Men and Women equally and effectively in the same campaign (10).
This is the Man (11). This is the Woman (12).
Two very well crafted characters that should resonate well with French Connections intended target audience and push the brand more into ‘luxurious’ territory in order to validate their higher priced items.
The work is an ironic pastiche of old French Cinema – a clever idea that plays well in the campaign. By playing the advert straight, the subtle humour becomes much more enjoyable and shows again, albeit in a more mature way, that French Connection don’t take themselves too seriously. This is confirmed again within the Media Resources pack which I was sent where they observe that their customers “like the irreverent twist” they add to their clothing range and see it as part of a “stylish” and “sexy” image for the brand.
After hiding behind their four-letter acronym for so long, French Connection look set to remind consumers who they are within such a crowded marketplace. The message seems to be clear: fuck fcuk.
And thank fcuk for that.
- Pinsent Masons, 2004. French letters made safer by CAP. Pinsent Masons. Available from: http://www.out-law.com/page-4705 [Accessed 22 March 2010]
- www.asa.org.uk – Original link has expired.
- BBC, 1999. Business: The Company File Ads make French Connection. London: BBC. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/the_company_file/306821.stm [Accessed 22March 2010]
- Saunders, D., 1996. Sex in Advertising. London: Batsford Ltd
- Murray-West, R.,2006. £3.6m loss for French Connection. London: Telegraph. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1528725/3.6m-loss-for-French-Connection.html [Accessed 22 March 2010]
- London Evening Standard, 2006. Catfight and lesbian kiss are a flop for French Connection. London: London Evening Standard. Available from: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23366602-catfight-and-lesbian-kiss-are-a-flop-for-french-connection.do [Accessed 22 March 2010]
- Vogue, 2004. Fcuk – £40 Million Divorce!. London: Condé Nast. Available from: http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/daily/2004-06/040630-fcuk–£40-million-divorce!.aspx [Accessed 22 March 2010]
- Farbey, A.D., 2002. How to Produce Successful Advertising. 3rd ed. London: Kogan Page Ltd
- Weir, L., 2010. French Connection to sell Nicole Farhi as Losses Mount. Retail Week, 19 March, 11a
- Seares, E., 26 February 2010. FIRST LOOK: French Connection’s new ad campaign. Fashionbite. Available from: http://fashionbite.co.uk/2010/02/26/first-look-french-connections-new-ad-campaign/ [Accessed 22 March]
- French Connection, 5 February 2010. The Man. Manifesto. Available from: http://manifesto.frenchconnection.com/2010/02/the-man-2/ [Accessed 22 March 2010]
- French Connection, 8 March 2010. Introducing The Woman. Manifesto. Available from: http://manifesto.frenchconnection.com/2010/03/introducing-the-woman/ [Accessed 22 March 2010]