One of Diesel’s biggest challenges every year must be trying to surpass its own advertising. Ever since I started writing about this business in the early 90s, the Italian fashion brand’s campaigns have been a creative reference.
One of my first articles was about the spot “Love All Serve All” from the Swedish agency Paradiset, a fantastic revival and re-imagining of B-movie aesthetics (years before they were adopted by Quentin Tarantino, or Tim Burton for his film Ed Wood). I was boyishly enthusiastic about the language, which felt new and perfect for the era, not to mention the music, which made a change from jarringly sweet jingles.
Diesel continued the trend throughout the 90s with a series of ironic and often provocative campaigns, which led to it being named Advertiser of the Year at Cannes in 1998. Even after ending its relationship with what had become Paradiset DDB, it continued to reach creative heights with a series of agency partners, notably the “Be Stupid” campaign with Anomaly in 2010.
Recently there was another outstanding addition to the Diesel portfolio as part of the larger “Go With the Flaw” campaign. In a cheeky stunt overseen by Publicis Milan – its current agency – the brand opened a dodgy stand on New York’s Canal Street selling fake DEISEL products (yes, you read that right). Except these turned out to be valuable limited edition collectors’ items. Diesel turned the tables on the fakers while creating a PR buzz in the middle of New York fashion week.
We asked Mihnea Gheorghiu, global creative director at Publicis Milan (left), to talk us through the operation.
How did the DEISEL project come about?
When the brief came in, the ‘Go With The Flaw’ campaign was fully scheduled and ready to go. The brief sounded like: ‘We need a US activation under Go With The Flaw which should happen in November 2017.’ As with the rest of the campaign, the activation was supposed to challenge and make fun of the fashion world’s obsession with perfection.
Where does DEISEL fit in the historic framework of the brand’s communications?
I guess Diesel has always had a strong point of view and offered a cool alternative to whatever was ordinary. DEISEL came at a time when the obsession with ‘copping’ big logos and super limited editions went a bit overboard.
What were the steps to arriving at the big idea?
First, since it was supposed to be an exclusively US campaign, we briefed our colleagues from the NY office. The moment DEISEL popped up in one of the decks we knew there was something there. It was scary. It was fun. It was a bit different at first, but we worked on it together and figured out the best way to bring fake to life in the most genuine way possible. Like opening a shop on the famed Canal Street in New York, understanding what could happen there, how it could be bigger and so on. But what made the idea even better was a happy accident. Initially, we were supposed to go live in November. But then it would’ve overlapped with the Holiday campaign. When we decided to postpone it, the client proposed February for the New York Fashion Week. And that’s when it clicked. It would happen only two weeks after the launch of the second chapter of “Go with the Flaw”, plus the context would make it so much stronger.
When the campaign went live, I imagine there must have been some funny episodes. Can you share some anecdotes?
Before the word got out, one of my best friends who lives in New York passed by the little DEISEL stand, having no idea what was going on, and sent me photos saying: “Look, they started making fakes! You must be doing something right.” Another friend who had his office a block away even made it into the final edit, his face blurred, wondering why a man is shouting, “These are real Diesel jeans, only the logos are fake.”
Can you provide some indications of the success of the operation?
As with any Diesel campaign we’ve done, you don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it. We knew the film was funny thanks to the brilliant performance of the two improv shop “owners”, but I don’t remember expecting this impact. I barely managed to get a sweatshirt myself, and that’s only because I know the client. The physical store was supposed to stay open for a week, but it completely sold out in less than a day. Then, the entire collection sold out three times in a row online. It even increased the online sales of the regular logo items. It really resonated with people. It gave everyone something to talk about.
Nicola Zonca is editor-in chief of Brand News and a member of the Epica Awards jury
This article appears in Epica Book 32, published in September 2019, featuring all the winners and selected high-scoring entries from the previous year's awards.