We Are Animals
Fred & Farid
In 2008, clothes company Wrangler put out a pitch to advertising agencies asking for help to reinvigorate the brand within the European youth market. It faced a specific image problem. ‘The problem was that Wrangler is an American brand, 125 years old, associated with middle America,’ explains Fred Raillard of Parisian agency Fred & Farid. ‘So the perception of Wrangler was very much linked to the cowboy.… But the cowboy in Europe was negative, because the cowboy means old, white America. It’s Marlboro, it’s John Wayne, it’s the people behind the Indian genocide. It’s George Bush, who was hated in Europe.’
Despite this, Fred & Farid, which won the pitch, felt it was important not to stray too far away from the brand’s roots in its new advertising. ‘You cannot start from scratch with the communication of a brand that is 125 years old,’ continues Raillard. ‘You cannot. Especially as in America the communication about the cowboy was to carry on. So we tried to extract the values of the rodeo – the wildness, being on an animal, roughness. Also, the positive aspects of cowboys – environment, nature, living with animals. Living in synch with nature, having courage. We tried to extract some values that would connect with young people in Europe. Then we thought, “maybe we could just move from the cowboy to the animal”. To the horse, in fact.’
This concept tied in with an old logo for the brand that the creative team found during their research. The logo from the 1970s saw the letters of the Wrangler name forming the shape of a horse. It may have been what Raillard describes as ‘cheesy’, but it meant that Fred & Farid’s idea of focusing on the brand’s associations to animals had a heritage. They then tested the concept on the target audience, and connected the idea with the culture of the time. ‘It was a period when we were facing a crisis,’ says Raillard. ‘… everything was collapsing, the banks were collapsing, and in that period of time we all had the feeling that our human society had reached a limit. So it was relevant to highlight that maybe we’d lost something when we lost our animality.’
The slogan ‘We Are Animals’ was decided upon, though Fred & Farid realized that this high concept ran the risk of backfiring if the execution of the ads was too heavy-handed. The key was to emphasize the animal instincts of humans, but in an unexpected way. ‘The first thing we decided was to never show any animals,’ says Raillard. ‘To not create confusion – we’re talking about human animality, so the big mistake would be to show an animal. Then we thought with such a strong statement, we couldn’t play around, we had to really do it. The whole background had to be animalistic – spontaneous, not too intellectual. So we decided to set up a way of working on Wrangler that was more spontaneous and creative.’
The team decided to avoid too much planning and over-thinking before the shoot, and to employ a photographer who was skilled in attaining a raw, natural quality to their work. ‘We looked at photographers not from the ad industry but from art,’ says Raillard. ‘People who in their personal work are passionate about showing human animality, celebrating animality in humans. We chose Ryan McGinley, as already in his personal work he was really driven by the whole idea of our animality.’
McGinley’s shooting style is loose, and his work follows a tradition of documentary photography begun by artists such as Nan Goldin and Larry Clark. He developed his style in the late 1990s by documenting his friends and acquaintances in New York engaging in parties, sex and general hedonism. When he moved to more formal shoots, using models, he retained this naturalistic approach. A shoot of McGinley’s, even a commercial one, will usually involve setting up loose parameters and scenarios but otherwise letting events evolve naturally, with everything captured on camera.
‘Clients want to show their product, but we really fought to convince them, to get them on board with us that it is more important to bring back the Wrangler attitude and make a connection with a new generation.’
Fred & Farid wholeheartedly embraced this style of working for the Wrangler shoot, which took place in the New Jersey countryside over two nights. Twelve models were selected to take part, drawn not from professional agencies but from street-casting. Actors and performance artists were also among those chosen, and the shoot, when described by Raillard, has the feel more of an art performance than a commercial exercise. ‘It was a crazy shoot,’ he says. ‘People made love in front of us.… Everybody got crazy for two nights. It was freezing like hell, we were wearing North Face jackets, and they were naked in nature! Everybody was amazing, everybody went for this art experience. We experimented with any idea that anybody had on set.’
McGinley, and his assistant, Tim Barber, took thousands of photographs over the two nights, according to Raillard. ‘So you don’t even have time to think about anything – any idea that anyone has you experiment with. It’s chaos, complete chaos.… and inside this chaos some pearls pop up.’ The shoot resulted in a set of arresting images, which were used to create the posters that stood at the centre of the We Are Animals campaign. Beyond the impact of the images themselves, what is striking about the posters is the lack of overt branding. The brand’s logo appears at the bottom, alongside the tagline, but otherwise the photographs are given room to breathe, a highly unusual approach in billboard advertising today, where brands have a tendency to shout their messages.
Even the product itself is absent from many of the shots. ‘We had to convince them,’ says Raillard. ‘Clients want to show their product, but we really fought to convince them, to get them on board with us that it is more important to bring back the Wrangler attitude and make a connection with a new generation. They would never have done it by showing the denim, because even if it’s great denim, denim is not a surprising product. We all wear denim now.’
The We Are Animals print and poster campaign is a great example of pure branding. Fred & Farid used other media to do the less exciting work of the ad campaign – using the Wrangler website to provide the vital product information, for example – but insisted that the posters be more ambiguous. It was a risky strategy that ultimately paid off for the jeans brand, injecting it with an edge and attitude that allowed Wrangler to stand out within an extremely crowded market.
‘The perception of Wrangler was very much linked to the cowboy.… But the cowboy in Europe was negative, because the cowboy means old, white America. It’s Marlboro, it’s John Wayne, it’s the people behind the Indian genocide. It’s George Bush, who was hated in Europe.’