The Impression Spoke with Johnathan Crocker, VP of Global Communications at AG, on the importance of storytelling and his vision for AG
BY OBI ANYANWU
Language and communication hold powers that we underestimate or overlook at times. A simple punctuation change can alter the entire meaning of a sentence, and proper wordplay can make music and paint pictures. Words are magical and messaging is powerful; companies and brands choose their words very wisely in order to properly convey their story to the right audience.
Johnathan Crocker, VP of Global Communications at AG, understands the power of words and storytelling. After joining AG in 2010, Johnathan was tasked with communicating AG’s story and its evolution from a premium denim brand to a contemporary lifestyle brand.
Crocker believes that “authenticity is paramount,” and the key to differentiating a brand is by creating dialogue. The industry is inundated with so much content on a daily basis, how can you sift through it all to find what truly speaks to your soul? Well, that’s for Johnathan to explain.
We spoke briefly with the man behind AG’s campaigns to discuss the brand’s Spring | Summer 2017 campaign, how his vision for AG has evolved, and what really “moves” consumers nowadays.
Can you tell us about the latest AG campaign? How did you come up with the concept for it?
The concept/inspiration we developed for our Spring 2017 collection was “La Nouvelle Vague”.
I wanted the art direction for the campaign to be as true to the concept as it could be, while at the same time interpreting it in a modern and relevant manner. With that, I felt it was important to shoot the campaign in Paris.
Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless’ served as the primary reference for both the collection and the campaign. Initially, we looked at shooting in some of the same locations as the film, but today, many of those locations are more tourist areas of Paris – not ideal. So, we asked ourselves the question, “If Jean Luc was filming ‘Breathless’ today, where would he shoot?” That led us to shooting in and around the Latin Quarter and Bir-Hakeim/Passy of Paris. [Photographer] Karim Sadli played a big role in finding the right spots for us to shoot in Paris. Having a true Parisian shoot the campaign definitely added to the authenticity and success of the campaign.
Do you often look to films for inspiration or reference for a concept? What are some other things that you turn to for inspiration?
No, not necessarily. To be honest, I think this is the first time as a brand, where we directly referenced a film for inspiration for concept and design. In terms of what ‘other things’ inspire us as a brand, it really is quite endless; there are no particular ‘go-to’s’ necessarily. Obviously, we make sure we’re informed on what’s coming down the runway and what people are wearing on the streets, but in terms of true inspiration, it can be anything from a film, personality and time period, to art, interior design or music.
The spring campaign is very authentic and it’s very funny and relatable too. What inspired the short film’s story?
The Spring 2017 campaign short film was loosely based on [Alexa Chung’s] personal experiences. She is always traveling due to her profession and a lot of times she is in different countries where she doesn’t know the language or isn’t fluent in it. We took this as an opportunity to bring a little humor and charm to it.
Alexa’s charm really shines through in the short. How much of the film was scripted and how much was improvised?
There was a script to ensure that we captured the essence of what we were looking to create, but because of Alexa’s natural quick-witted humor, she really improvised a lot of the dialogue. That’s the reason why it feels as real and authentic as it does.
The AG Fall 2017 collection reminds us of the Hollywood in the 1990’s. Can we expect this to serve as the concept for the next campaign?
Yes, the concept for Fall 2017 is ‘90s Young Hollywood’. Think young Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, River Phoenix, Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Reality Bites, that whole time period.
I felt the concept was so strong that if you say ‘90s Young Hollywood’, it immediately brings to mind the people I just mentioned, and creates an incredibly strong visual reference. As a result, I was confident that we could be more literal with our translation of the concept, which ultimately meant, shooting in Los Angeles, on Sunset Blvd and at the Chateau. Between working with Alexa and Angelo Pennetta, I knew we could execute the concept in an authentic manner, without it feeling contrived.
What was your vision for the company when you first joined, and has it changed over time?
When I first began working with the brand seven years ago, I wanted to firmly establish AG as one of the most respected and sought after premium denim brands in the industry. The premium denim market is one of the most competitive and cluttered categories in fashion, so differentiating ourselves from our competitors in a meaningful and creative way is no small task. Seven years later, I believe we’ve achieved that, but the focus now is evolving the perception of AG from being seen exclusively as a premium denim brand to a proper ready to wear collection.
What are some factors and ideas to keep in mind when competing in the denim category and differentiating AG from other brands?
Know who you truly are as a brand and the story you want to tell. Then tell that story in a way that is unique, compelling and engaging. If it creates a conversation, you’re on the right track.
May we discuss the Tumblr campaign for Contour 360 Denim in 2014? How did you approach doing a social media campaign? What were some aspects to keep in mind?
In the digital/social times we live in today, there’s really nothing we do from a ‘communications’ standpoint, where we don’t consider social media’s role or the inherent implications or opportunities it presents. For the launch of Contour 360 (a multi stretch fabric, with a true 3×1 denim construction), we wanted to tell it’s story, but we wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t so product specific, but more creative and truly created a conversation. I wanted to speak to the performance of the denim and the fact that you could really do anything in them, like yoga or ballet, but I knew that wasn’t enough to create a conversation.
Ultimately, that’s how the #WhatMovesMe campaign was created. It spoke to the element of physical movement, but more importantly, it tapped into the idea that there are many things in life that ‘move us’ – ultimately, asking the question, “What moves me?” We then created original branded content to address this question. We filmed a pretty dynamic cross section of creatives, answering the question, “What moves me?” – which included everyone from chef Roy Choi and Spencer Ludwig from the band Capital Cities, John Edelman, the CEO of Design Within Reach and florist and perfumer Eric Butterbaugh. There are a number of other interesting and creative partnerships we created around the launch, but I won’t take up any more time/space than I already have.
In your previous interview with us, you said you began working with Daria Werbowy and Alexa Chung to create conversation. What are some conversations AG has created or you hope to create?
I believe the goal of any brand is to ultimately create a dialogue and a conversation.
As a fashion brand, you hope that conversation is started from a collection itself, but the reality is that many times that is not enough and more is needed. That’s when the likes of a ‘face of the brand’ or a collaboration can have the opportunity to truly create a conversation.
Having Daria as the face of the brand for four consecutive seasons was a true turning point for the brand’s perception and image. Until then, Daria had exclusively worked with premium designer brands, like Celine, Isabel Marant, Ferragamo and Balenciaga. To have Daria and her team trust and believe in the direction we were taking AG, and align her brand with ours, was a huge nod to the brand.
From the moment the campaign was released, the feedback and response was immediate and incredibly positive. People were talking about the brand, from key editors and tastemakers, to our customers and key retail partners. The same was the case when we announced and released our collaboration with Alexa – to be honest, it was even stronger. The excitement, anticipation, and overall response to the collaboration/collection was unprecedented. To date, we’ve never had more coverage and exposure around the brand – it was both a commercial and editorial success. Stay tuned…some very exciting things to come from the brand!
One last question, what advice would you give a young professional in communications or someone that just graduated in the field?
Authenticity is paramount. You want to make sure that whatever it is that you’re creating and/or communicating is authentic to that particular brand or partner that you’re working with, and that the audience that it’s meant to engage and speak to, believes you.
Someone told me very early in my career, every brand has a story to tell, but every story must create a conversation. If you are telling a story that doesn’t solicit some kind of dialogue or create some kind of conversation you have to reconsider why you’re telling that story.