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Mixing music with jeans and thrills

Scott Morrison, marketing and commercial director of Diesel, the modish clothing group best known for its jeans, is not exactly a fan of sponsorship.

“We don’t sponsor things here, we create. It is important that whatever you create, do the justice your brand deserves,” insists Morrison, who in the early years of his career combined marketing with being a DJ and record producer (primarily of US House music).

One-off events can have their place, but there are obvious limitations. Morrison is not much interested in events where canapés and cocktails are served, and everyone feels happy when they leave, but then immediately forgets about what has happened.

“Done properly, events can be incredibly important because they can be a window into the brand which gives the consumer the opportunity to touch, feel and experience the DNA of your  brand and understand what you are all about,” says Morrison, a Saatchi & Saatchi- trained marketer, who has also been marketing director of gaming group Activision.

In fact, the word “events” seems inadequate to describe the elaborately choreographed and sustained manifestations that Diesel and Morrison put on.

Events can be incredibly important because they can be a window into the brand which gives the consumer the opportunity to touch, feel and experience the DNA

The most recent big effort, which came out of the fertile imagination of the Diesel founder and owner Renzo Rosso, was called Studio Africa. Rosso and his friend Bono of U2 fame have long been interested in development in Africa. The friendship led to a collaboration between Diesel and Bono and his wife Ali Hewson’s clothing brand Edun.

A collection was put together by nine young African designers, using cotton farmed in Africa and materials that all came from the continent. Diesel gave the designers a platform everywhere from the United States and Japan to the UK and other parts of Europe.

“It’s all about authenticity and integrity, and our brand is all about empowering young creative talent to be the best that it can be – that was the overall concept,” says Morrison, who was involved in two years of planning for the Studio Africa project.

A London sub-theme involved setting up Diesel Village, a pop-up shop in Regent Street, to provide a celebration of Africa and the designs.

Diesel’s Studio Africa range of products was well displayed, of course, but there was also a film night, pop-up restaurants with African food and music provided by African Express, the group of musicians who toured Britain by train last year to great acclaim.

“We reached into our network and all the people that were involved helped us reach a broader audience with content and engagement and communications. It felt like a very powerful movement from the brand, not just an event,” explains Morrison, who appears on the lists of most influential black Britons.

The pop-up shop may now have closed, but the Studio Africa project will continue with a winter 2013 collection planned by the African designers.

Diesel is famous for a history of incredible, almost crazy events and performances that have mirrored the changes of brand emphasis over the years. According to one design specialist, the Diesel brand began as “greasy rockabilly” before migrating to the world of “quirky urban fashionistas” and then on to its current place – “conscious hedonism”.

The “incredible” events and campaigns, some to commemorate the privately owned Italian company’s 30th birthday five years ago, have included:

  • Streaming online 24 hours of events across every world time zone and linking all the countries where Diesel has a presence
  • The Be Stupid campaign and series of events around the world, (stupid in the sense that Rosso was doing vintage jeans when everyone wanted new jeans)
  • Setting up their own internet radio station Diesel U Music in London where independent and maverick labels, and individual music lovers were able to do their own shows. As one national newspaper noted at the time: “Tuning into the internet radio station Diesel U Music, it’s easy to forget that it is essentially a clever scheme to sell jeans.”

Morrison, the executive with the dual marketing and commercial role, acknowledges the serious financial purpose behind the good works and pizzazz – after all, Diesel is a company with revenues of more than €1 billion a year.

“When we show things that are right and that are great, and we show creativity and the Diesel DNA, and the passion around it, then ultimately business will come,” insists the Diesel executive, who might still be a record producer.

“There was a crossroads and I had the choice between continuing my commercial and marketing career or becoming a full-time music producer [he had relationships with labels such as Hed Kandi] – but marketing seemed the better bet for the long term.

“The music scene is about creativity, passion and open-mindedness, and music producing is pretty much like the Diesel organisation itself. We have a strong heritage of music,” says Morrison.

Diesel is about to have another recalibration following the appointment of designer Nicola Formichetti as the company’s first artistic director. He says he will be looking at the entire company, from the clothes, the shows and marketing to the store experience and advertising.

Formichetti, whose clothes have been worn by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, says he wants Diesel to be relevant again. “I want it to be the place, the brand, the jean. It used to be that and it kind of lost its touch,” the new artistic director says on the style.com website.

Meanwhile Morrison is already at work on the next nudge on the tiller at Diesel. “It’s semi under wraps, but what I can tell you is that it’s called  Diesel Reboot and it’s still very much driven by our DNA. We are always trying to make sure that the Diesel brand has a very clear point of view,” he says.

Whatever transpires with Diesel Reboot, you can be sure that somewhere in the mix there will be a serious collection of incredible events – however Diesel chooses to name them.