Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Pope and Prada: redux

The WSJ has an article (subscriber only. Thanks, Dogwood, for passing it on!) that explores Benedict's image as a purveyor of fashion labels. Or, rather, how fashion execs are trying to cash in (without appearing to) on the supposedly fashion-crazy Pontiff.
Benedict XVI is striking a snazzier profile, presenting international brands with a welcome change of pace. Being associated with the pope is worth at least 100 times more than an A-list celebrity because the pontiff has a more devoted following, says John Allert, chief executive of the British unit of Interbrand, a global branding consultancy that is part of the Omnicom Group Inc.
But unlike movie stars, who can command huge sums for product endorsements, or the queen of England, who discreetly allows companies to mention royal patronage, the pope, as the moral and spiritual leader of more than one billion Catholics, endorses holiness and chastity but not products.

That means companies have to hope the pontiff uses a product they have donated to him and then tastefully note the event, or delicately capitalize on a photograph showing the 79-year-old theologian using or wearing a particular brand. Astute marketers say the key words are "tastefully" and "delicately." Pursuing pope-and-product juxtaposition poses risks. Brands have to be careful not to appear opportunistic or they could risk a backlash with the pope's followers. "The question of endorsing products, especially from a figure such as the pope, raises an enormous number of questions in terms of the ethics of each company," says Ben Cronin, general manager and research director of S.Comm, an international advertising-research firm.
A senior Vatican official who asked not to be named says that when it comes to worldly goods, Benedict XVI's choice of personal accessories is "completely arbitrary."

The official adds: "He's aware of the buzz, but mostly he laughs about it, because it's so absurd. What does he really have to choose? He doesn't wear a tie or coat. The glasses he wears are the same glasses he wore as a cardinal, as is the pen he writes with."
And what about Prada itself?
The most widely publicized papal branding event appears to have been the result of mistaken identity.
Over the past few months, scores of media reports have dubbed Benedict XVI the "Prada Pope," crediting the Italian fashion house with having made the pope's eye-catching red loafers.
The senior Vatican official says the loafers were actually made by the pope's personal cobbler. But Prada has refused to confirm or deny the reports, allowing the press speculation to continue. A spokesman for Prada said the fashion house lacked "the necessary elements" to make an accurate determination.

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