For some brands, their stories—real or invented—often turn to the world of automobile racing (Tag Heuer, Hublot), sailing (Omega) or aviation (Breitling). The fashion industry is well known for exploring such territory.
But for the past few years, several brands have turned to equestrian sports for inspiration instead. Some, like Hermès, do it to maintain a genuine legacy. Others simply invent a story out of a desire to convey a prestigious image. Enter the art of branding, brand image and positioning.
For its part, Polo Ralph Lauren—a fairly young brand launched in 1967—created an equestrian world that most people will never experience, but that is evocative of a worldly life of leisure.
H&M has partnered with equestrian sports since 1996. More recently, they took their association up a notch by creating an entire campaign around the sponsorship of equestrian athletes and events. But they took a different tack than brands traditionally operating in this sector. The platform—H&M We Love Horses—is primarily a digital initiative featuring a range of equestrian-related content, from exclusive behind-the-scenes access at events to live broadcasts to news items to profiles of athletes and their equestrian lifestyle.
Fashion does, of course, feature prominently as part of this platform: several activations are dedicated to it. At the Olympia Horse Show in London, a popular blogger decked out in H&M gear walked around and picked out what she considered to be the best outfits in the crowd.
The program also includes partnerships with four rising stars in the equestrian world: two Swedish athletes who are well established in their respective disciplines and two young Belgian twins. These associations with brand ambassadors have made it easy for H&M to do effective product placement as part of the content.
H&M isn’t a luxury brand and doesn’t aspire to be one. So why is it following the lead of prestige brands by making ties with the equestrian world? The question becomes even more relevant when you consider that only a tiny portion of the population actually practices equestrian sports. (In the United States, only 0.02% of the population are actively involved in equestrian events.)
The answer lies in the number of people worldwide that profess a love of horses. They are largely made up of women (74%) and tend to skew younger. That is a prized target audience for an affordable brand, and inspiring long-term brand loyalty is a worthwhile objective. By posting equestrian content that constantly features the company’s products, H&M successfully invites them to consider—and purchase—their products.
Because affordable clothing isn’t exactly the norm in the equestrian world where high-end brands abound, We Love Horses gives H&M the chance to own that territory and engage all year long with a less affluent—and very receptive—segment of the population.
It’s worth noting the unusual approach H&M took with this partnership. At first glance, there is no connection, not even from an image standpoint, between high-level equestrian sports and a mass clothing manufacturer. But an oblique association, when it is well executed, can be just as effective as more relevant partnerships when it comes to generating awareness.
The other element worth noting is how the program fosters segmentation, both in terms of the target choice and the communication channels. This rather discreet platform has managed to reach a precise group of consumers in a very effective way.
Companies are accustomed to segmenting consumers on the basis of demographics. And yet, from a communications standpoint, targeting consumers based on their passions and their consumption habits is far more relevant than assuming that every generation (i.e. Millennials) is homogenous.
Brands would do well to start using qualitative research methods from disciplines such as ethnography or netnography (the observation of consumer behaviour online) when trying to find strong insights. With We Love Horses, H&M just gave us all a master class on how that is done.