Tracking IZOD: Goodbye 80’s, Hello Indy

Written by Prentice Howe, Creative Director, for Promo Magazine.

Enduring brands are never idle. They are ever changing, ever morphing, ever adapting. They cause trends and get caught chasing them, too, both as victor or victim. Yes, the long journey of a brand is an interesting study, and one of the more intriguing treks of late is IZOD.

If you’re over 35, you think of IZOD as a page straight out of The Preppy Handbook. IZOD conjures up images of a guy named Blair, sporting a popped collar, madras shorts, penny loafers and a sweater draped around his neck. However, to young, male sports enthusiasts, Blair occupies zero brain space, as they don’t remember IZOD’s ties to Lacoste and the iconic crocodile. They just see the brand as active and youthful, appealing to the kind of everyman who loves golf, motorsports and poker—and has never picked up a wooden tennis racket.

Today’s IZOD is certainly not yesterday’s IZOD, and to Mike Kelly, the brand’s executive vice-president of marketing, that’s just fine. The brand’s rollercoaster journey, the up, the down, and now up again, tells Kelly that the brand is once again connecting with the consumer. Kelly attributes the brand’s resurgence to better identifying the target audience, and reshaping the brand’s marketing messages to that audience.

“I just opened the new Vanity Fair,” Kelly said. “The first four ads, I’m so bored. Same old, same old American brands, American flags, dogs in the Alaskan snow. It’s falling more and more on deaf ears.”

This is why IZOD, and their parent company Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH), took a sharp turn.


PVH recently announced a multi-year agreement with the Indy Racing League (IRL), the sanctioning body for the IndyCar Series, for its IZOD brand to become the title sponsor of the newly renamed IZOD IndyCar Series.

IZOD and IndyCar? Yes. What would Blair think? Kelly doesn’t care. As he describes it, this direction is the result of listening to their target consumer, 25 to 34-year-old males, and then connecting to them through what interests them most—sports.

The six-year, multi-million dollar deal is intended to broaden the sport’s appeal both off the track and beyond its traditional audience. It includes increased national media initiatives with IRL’s two television partners—ESPN on ABC and VERSUS—as well as access to drivers and 100 years worth of motorsports assets and graphics from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. This includes current and vintage cars, for on- and off-track events, both in and out of race markets.

Sports targeted at young males is a booming business, and IZOD wanted a bigger piece of that pie.

“They say sports is the last Tivo-proof programming,” said Stuart Elliot, The New York Times Advertising Columnist. “If you’re a sports fan, it’s hard to give up your cable subscription. I talk to young people and they’ll say, ‘I keep my TV around just so I can watch the occasional game.’”

To grasp IZOD’s shift to a sportier, more youthful persona one must begin by first understanding where the brand has been. And the road to Indy hasn’t come without a few bumps. Kelly said that there were some “really bad ideas” put forth by the marketers at IZOD back in the 1990’s.

“Sophomoric, poorly lit, bad quality, product-centric stuff, lacking ideas,” he said. “It came from the pressure of retailers and also from the apparel industry’s bad habit of riffing off other brands. We were as guilty as anyone of being in that rut. We were looking at other brands for cues instead of the consumer.”

And, in his eyes, it’s a rut that many brands still can’t shake free from, continuously falling into this outdated fashion-marketing paradigm. (Cue the dogs in Alaskan snowdrifts.)

By the early 90’s, IZOD’s income statement was also in peril. What was once the greatest name in America for knit shirts was now in bankruptcy. PVC saw an underdeveloped brand with great equity at a good price tag, so they purchased the company in 1995. Then, they went on to apply their formula for success to all aspects of the brand, including sourcing, merchandising, product design and value messaging—and then coupled it with a creative marketing strategy unlike anything the company had seen before.

Karen Alberg Grossman, editor in chief, Business Journals, Inc., views IZOD and Indy’s partnership as “brilliant,” giving a classic brand a younger, more adventurous, edgier personality. Picture Paul Newman in an Indy car, evoking a sexier era in motor sports.

The results to date? IZOD has seen double-digit sales increases in Macy’s stores where its “activated Indy,” meaning advertising three weeks before a race and once week after. This geo-targeted, multilayered effort includes spot and cable television, cinema advertising, street teams and driver appearances. As one-off tactics, none of them are strikingly novel, but IZOD has found a way to layer them together really well. And while it’s too early to fully evaluate the partnership, IZOD likes what they see, and feels like the brand is, once again, on the right track.

“The days of showing someone standing in the woods wearing your shirt are gone,” Elliott said with a laugh.

So true. And, for the IZOD brand, it’s out of woods and out of the 80’s they’d rather stay.