The Emperor Has No Shoes: A Marketing Lesson from Nine West

Nicole Larrauri
Nicole Larrauri



Oh, the good old days of marketing. Only a few short years ago, brands could use advertising to broadcast messaging or publicize an offer. Simple, right? No one cried foul if the message was amiss. Everyone was – well at least advertising agencies were – happy.

And here we are today in a new transparent economy. Leading us to Nine West. Nine West, admittedly, had a problem. Marginalized. Lost in a sea of competitors. Losing relevance with Millennials.

So the brand embarked on a new advertising campaign. I am pretty sure that the creative brief on this campaign said in bold letters, "BE EDGY. Girls today are edgy!"

So creatives gathered around a table and said “Walk of shame – that’s super edgy and current, right!?”

“Ladies buy shoes to impress men – of course!” "How about 'Husband Hunting'?” "That’s SO LOL!”

And so this campaign was born...


The problem is, the Nine West brand isn’t necessarily edgy. The campaign infuriated women. And upon launch, this happened:

Many critics and consumers alike found the ads patronizing and offensive, taking issue with the campaign showing women either taking care of husbands, or taking care of children, and leaving out, well, everything else a woman could possibly do in shoes. And they took to social media to publicly broadcast their frustration with the campaign.

One could argue that Nine West received more media coverage than it likely ever has in its lifetime. Whether this media coverage will sell shoes is debatable. The backlash has been so significant that they’ve likely turned off more customers more than they would have turned on.

However, this post isn’t meant to critique the campaign. Regardless of whether or not we personally found it all that offensive – let's look at how this influences how we approach brand strategy.

Listening and Transparency.

Look, Nine West shoes are the grilled chicken salad of footwear. Practical. Does what it’s supposed to. OK fare for your average in-office Tuesday.

And that’s OK. That’s who they are. They sell attainable, sometimes very nice looking, footwear for a variety of life occasions. Your first job. Your fifth job. Your aunt’s wedding.


The problem is the “life moments” reflected in the campaign aren’t from any real conversations happening about the brand. Ever. They aren’t things that anyone has ever said or felt about Nine West.

We don’t need a focus group to tell us that. All of the conversations happening about the brand are there.


Here is a good example of a brand insight pre-campaign. One look at the current ad campaign – and then one visit to a store – would cause a pretty significant disconnect. The post above was from a real customer, why not focus tone and messaging around her?

So, rather than try to dictate a message to say something different about your brand, cultivate the conversations that are already happening about what people are saying about you. Build new brand loyalists and new customers by pulling the insights that are so readily available to us today.

This post originally appeared on The EGC Blog.

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