One of the trends that seems to be becoming more prevalent in store promotion is the move towards taking a well-known name or brand, linking it with a host store and then standing back and waiting for the sales to pour in.

Examples vary from the clothing range designed by Rihanna for River Island to the Maison Martin Margiela and Karl Lagerfeld collections that have graced the rails in H&M.

Everybody knows that they are not what the designers would normally offer, in terms of fabrication at least, but they are also aware that the design house will have had a heavy involvement and that equates to limited availability and therefore enhanced value. That’s the theory and such initiatives offer fashion’s big names to a broader audience, meaning the retailer can charge a higher price for the branded items than might be the case with more
normal merchandise.

Straightforward then and, as a means of shifting large quantities of stock in a short period, this kind of promotion may be past its zenith - shoppers tend to be a savvy lot. Unless, of course, the retailer in question is Uniqlo.

Ladurée collaboration

The Japanese fast-fashion retailer has been as prone as its rivals to yoking designer names and its stock together in stores.

The latest tie-up was the printed range from 1960s textile queen Celia Birtwell. This looks good, but perhaps rather more arresting is the front of the shop in the Oxford Street flagship, which is used to display brands that might have no apparent relation to Uniqlo, and to make them work hard as fashion items.

Two examples serve to show the tendency in action. The first was from fancy French macaroon brand Ladurée. Visit Paris and if you go to the right places you’ll find boxes of the things (and yes, they can be purchased individually) - and you’ll probably think they are pretty expensive. They are.

Yet Uniqlo teamed up with Ladurée to create a macaroon-led display in which the brand created a pyramid-meets-Christmas tree structure, festooned with the upscale pastel-coloured goodies. This was coupled with a Ladurée-branded sign and pastel gift boxes. Beneath all of this was a range of printed T-shirts that picked up the colours of the confectionery and used them as the basis of the offer.

It is a moot point whether this was on-brand for Uniqlo or whether it actually managed to sell any of the garments, but as a way of attracting attention at the front of the shop it was effective. That was at the end of April and the promotion ran until May, at which point the space morphed into a Fiat 500 promotion.

On the back of a Fiat 500

On the face of it, this might seem even more surprising to be linked with a clothing retailer, but the idea of using cars as visual merchandising props is hardly novel (Topshop at Oxford Circus has been using a piece of 1950s vehicular Americana on its ground floor for a while now).

What Uniqlo does, however, is make the car the centrepiece of the clothing range, rather than just deploying it as a backdrop to the standard offer, which is the more usual approach. The promotion translates as a canary-yellow soft-top Fiat 500 with a deckchair and windbreak stuffed into the back of the car. Around it are printed T-shirts with images and words about the Fiat 500.

There is a sense that a car costing £10,000 or thereabouts, and which is something of a fashion icon in its own right, is a canny choice by Uniqlo to lift the front of the shop and is rather more likely to appeal than the exclusive Ladurée macaroons. On the first weekend in which the promotion ran, two casually dressed types were on hand to try and sell a car as well as the many T-shirts related to the promotion.

An additional and eye-catching element was included at the store entrance consisting of an A-stand on which the words ‘Buy a Fiat 500 T-shirt and take one of our models home’. This was accompanied by a picture of one of the cars and might have led the onlooker to jump to an erroneous conclusion. The deal, in fact, was that when a Fiat 500 T-shirt purchase was made, a toy car was included as part of the package - not perhaps quite as enticing.

Both the Ladurée and Fiat 500 promotions are probably more about giving shoppers reasons to take a look around the store than they are about selling incremental quantities of T-shirts. What it does serve to show is that almost anything is capable of being used as a means of attracting attention. Uniqlo seems to have understood that shoppers may just be tiring of seeing another range from a designer they may not actually have heard of and has taken the
product/celebrity/brand endorsement equation a stage further.

The real challenge is to think of a familiar brand that might not be dragged into service as a means of enhancing sales and footfall in a store, although perhaps the line might be drawn at Panadol, TCP or a proprietary brand of laxatives. But even that might not be the case. There are times, it would appear, when anything goes and retailers seeking to cause a stir might do well to remember this. Cross merchandising really does work and both the host retailer and the visiting brand will probably benefit - and it doesn’t have to be confined to the heady world of fashion.