Is Burberry Becoming Too Gimmicky?

It was reported today that Burberry’s signature scarves are taking flight in London’s Piccadilly Circus. No, the Big Smoke’s winds aren’t particularly blistering this time of year. Rather, the iconic British brand has teamed up with DreamWorks to create an interactive virtual experience for the holidays. The campaign allows users to customize a Burberry scarf with their very own initials on their mobile devices. A handful of those designs will then be beamed up onto Piccadilly’s enormous screens, and the users will be able to control how they float and move through the app with the entire roundabout watching.

“The huge screens in Piccadilly Circus give us a great canvas to launch the technology in a space that will show the possibilities of what this technology can do in an entertaining and engaging way,” said Christopher Bailey, the brand’s chief creative officer and CEO. “Giving users the ability to control their movement in various ways makes the experience much more personal when viewed on a screen whether at home or on a digital billboard.”

It’s a cute holiday gimmick to be sure, and one that might put Burberry scarves in the forefront of shoppers’ minds, if only for a few fleeting moments. But will stunts like these really drive consumers to buy?

In a world with far too many techy gizmos, social media platforms, and distracting apps, brands have to find new ways to present their products. Burberry has been a pioneer in this movement, with an innovative, often interactive website that merges e-commerce and editorial content, as well as a number of tech-friendly initiatives. For starters, the brand was among the first to offer shoppable campaigns and fashion shows, as well as runway livestreams. Furthermore, it has found clever ways to utilize social media, enlisting photographer Mario Testino to Snapchat its Spring-Summer 2016 campaign shoot. Naturally, the images, which will break on January 6, were inspired by the social sphere. Burberry also helped debut Twitter’s now popular Periscope streaming app, using it to broadcast the London in L.A. show this past April, just one month after Periscope’s inception. (It’s worth noting that DreamWorks’ CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg attended that runway romp.)

Fendi is another brand that, last year, presented an adorable little app with which a potential shopper could customize his or her own Baguette bag. And Hermès is yet one more example of a luxury fashion house that aimed to engage consumers via a playful virtual experience—its Silk Knots app is one of my favorites of the bunch because it basically offers tutorials on the many ways one can tie the storied French house’s silk scarves.

I used that app quite a bit, and can now finally tie the perfect Hermès turban. But it didn’t make me buy a new Hermès scarf. And I have a hard time believing Burberry’s flying foulards are going to promote a significant boost in sales, either. Call me old fashioned, but how does playing with an image of something I might purchase make it seem more desirable? If anything, a Piccadilly cameo makes Burberry’s high-end product seem more ordinary or exposed and (kind of like the Revlon kiss cam in Times Square) thus, as the luxury market goes, less exclusive and covetable. And I have to disagree with Bailey’s comment about the “personal” elements of Burberry’s new campaign. Just as Instagram has taken the most intimate moments of our lives and turned them into public spectacle, a customized scarf projected for the world to see seems rather impersonal. I’d much prefer an app that would show me (and only me) what the scarf looks like on me—or, since it’s the holiday season, after all, how it might look on whomever I might be giving it to. Does it flatter my sister’s coloring? Would it look nice with that long black dress coat my aunt favors?

I don’t mean to be hard on Burberry—as I mentioned before, it has a knack for creating engaging virtual customer experiences. Perhaps Burberry’s marketing team has a brilliant future in animation. Maybe next December we’ll be able to turn ourselves into Claymation elves and try on a whole Burberry wardrobe. But honestly, what is the point? The brand’s Dreamworks collaboration feels a bit silly, and seems to miss the mark—a strong advert (and Burberry does a great advert—Romeo Beckham, anyone?) in Piccadilly Circus would have achieved the same brand awareness. That being said, I do enjoy Burberry’s super soft plaid scarves—I just prefer them around my neck, rather than on a Jumbotron.

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