Tale of Thomas Burberry

Successful Christmas campaigns can take many forms and Burberry has taken a more original approach this year with The Tale of Thomas Burberry. The ad, which is shot in stellar cinematic style, features an all-star cast to depict the life, achievements and heartaches of the brand’s founder.

Evolving Burberry

Looking at this beautiful, romanticised projection of the brand, it’s easy to distance Burberry in 2016 from the brand of the early 2000s. Even a brief look at the brand’s history shows how such bleak times were completely transformed by vision and innovation to make the brand the luxurious, forward-thinking entity that it is today.

In its 160-year history, the Burberry brand has been through a great number of changes. At its inception in the mid to late 1800s, founder Thomas Burberry created a business which specialised in producing waterproof outdoor wear.

Gabardine (the weather-proof yarn used to create the brand’s signature coats) was the star material which led Burberry the man to create Burberry the brand which was world-renown for being of reliable, hard wearing quality. Such was its reputation to deliver, Burberry clothing was used in early expeditions to Everest and Antarctica.

In addition to taking this quality forward with it into the 20th century – where the Burberry trench coat found a role in both World Wars protecting the military – it also adopted a new agenda into fashion, in addition to functionality. It’s original store in London’s Haymarket marked the start of a shift to mass audience appeal.

As part of the expansion which lasting throughout the 1900s, the company sold its licences and rights to various companies on the otherside of the world. As a result, it lost control of the firm’s founding principles of quality and also lost control of processes. In addition, the price of Burberry products varied radically as many significantly reduced in line with a declining brand image.

Re-positioning brand

In addition to losing its distinction and exclusivity, the original tartan patterns and prints were widely adopted by ‘chavs’, a group The Telegraph defined as ‘pejorative term for a low-income social group obsessed with brand names, cheap jewellery and football’ in 2004.

Being unwittingly adopted by ‘chav’ culture appeared to provide the much needed wake-up call the brand needed to premium quality. This change in strategy is noted in part on the archives of Burberry PLC’s website.

Among the references to the business’s structure, it notes the Burberry brand buying back the Asian arm of the business from third party distributors in 2002 while a demerger from former majority shareholders GUS plc took place in in 2005.

Returning Burberry shares to the brand itself cost an undisclosed sum in the region of hundreds of millions, putting serious pressure on the brand if it was to continue to survive. Rather than morn this financial hit, key executives at the brand (including the current Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey) worked to relaunch Burberry as a luxury British high-fashion label.

Add in made in Britain

Speaking in an interview with the Guardian in 2013, the then CEO Angela Ahrendts spoke about the challenge of reclaiming and repositioning the brand, making its staff fall in love with it and bringing British fashion (both manufacturing and on the runway) back to Britain itself.

Ahrendts herself has been largely credited with turning around a crumbling brand to a luxury fashion phenomenon and the brand has continued moving forward since her departure. From forming partnerships with a small selection of fashionista celebrities, to sealing relationships with international fashion editors to arguably being the most proactive high fashion brand to embrace social and digital, it continues to go from strength to strength.

From 2015, the company united again by rebranding its three labels (Prorsum, Brit and London) under the overarching label ‘Burberry’.

Coming full circle

As intended by its founder Thomas, Burberry once again united, fine quality and proudly British some 160-years after its inception. Bringing this full circle into Christmas advertisement, more reminiscent of a blockbuster film trailer shows not only an exceptional reputational turnaround, but also the power of branding when the executive team behind it truly believes in the brand – just as its founder did.

Image courtesy of Burberry.

Video courtesy of Burberry.