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In 'Poor but Sexy' Berlin, Brands Need to Understand Casual

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To Market Successfully, You Need to Know the College-Kid Mentality

In 'Poor but Sexy' Berlin, Brands Need to Understand Casual

Happy Berlin family

This is my first post for the Global Idea Network, and I am happy to be here. I aim to post once a week about my experiences in Berlin and around Europe as an expat. Today, I want to talk a little bit about Berlin, the city its mayor, Klaus Wowereit, called "poor but sexy."

Berlin is sexy, poor and the most casual city I can imagine. Everyone wears jeans, T-shirts, hoodies and some sort of field jacket. At first I mistook this casualness as slovenliness or poverty. No. Berlin's casualness is very intentional. In spite of limited cash, Berliners are slaves to fashion and remain current. The moment jeans went skinny, Berlin went skinny. When the world became obsessed with Chuck Taylors, Berliners sported them. Current, as long as the fashion palette keeps to caps, jeans, T-shirts, jackets and sneakers. When my friend Mark wore the wrong sort of casual, his friends staged an intervention: The jeans were all wrong, the jacket was uncool and the shoes had to go.

It occurred to me that successful marketing in Berlin requires marketing to college kids, who are the epitome of poor but sexy, across the board and for everything. Ask yourself how you would sell a car, a cellphone, a pair of panties, a watch, some gum, a bank account or a credit card to a teenager, and you'll probably get it right here in Berlin.

Traveling by U-BahnWhen it comes to purchases, Berliners judge each other's fashion sense like they do at college, where how you were dressed had more to do with style and selection -- how you wore it -- and less to do with the total cost of purchase and where you bought it. Competition in the marketplace comes from flea markets, hand-me-downs, swap meets and eBay as easily as it may your competitor. Lots of those skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors were scored used from the '80s. I learned from my friend Libia from Mexico City that Berlin is world-famous for its used clothing and consignment stores. There is no stigma associated with getting stuff used and cheap -- quite the opposite.

There are other concerns when marketing to Berliners: biking, weather, exposure and the elements. Like college students, Berliners take public transport and ride bikes every day in all sorts of Central European weather. In fact, I have been told again and again that bicycles are neither recreational nor optional. They're essential to daily life. Like students going to class in the morning, Berliners need to carry everything they need for the day with them. In this environment, Manolos are pretty impractical, as are skirts, heavily styled hairdos and exceptionally delicate makeup rituals.

Berlin casual is not limited to kids in their teens and twenties, however. I am talking about my 39-year-old friend Frank, who pretty much dresses in hooded sweatshirts and jeans all the time (with a fierce family brand loyalty to the G-Star brand, universally popular in Berlin) and, coincidentally, dresses just like his two sons, 8 and 10, as you can see in the photo illustrations. Yes, Frank, who runs a production company called The Lime Machine, approved this post.

Originally posted in AdAge on November 25, 2008

Nov 25, 2008 12:00 AM