Shubhankar Ray on how brands can survive in the 21st century

Content is king but no one explains why quite like Shubhankar Ray, who re-engineered the brands of Camper, Levis and G-Star.

Global brand director of G-Star RAW Shubhankar Ray, a former scientist himself, takes a “molecular” view of brands in his talk at Design Indaba Conference 2015, analysing their DNA to understand their makeup.

Content, he proclaimed, has become more valuable than bought advertising. “It’s to do with relevancy to the audience,” he explained, “the stuff that people really give a shit about rather than the stuff that somebody wants to push on you.”

“A brand has got to stand for something in the 21 century to survive,” said Ray, “because if you don’t stand for something you fall for anything.”

In 20 years of working with some of the biggest (and coolest) brands, including Levis, Camper and now G-Star, Ray has seen a few major shifts in the universe of brands. The media that brings them to our attention has fragmented, shopping happens across a range of platforms and fashion is no longer best-served by glamour shots in glossy magazines.

“We live in an attention economy,” says Ray, “economics is driven by attention. Everyone is cool and all fashion is fast.”

The way to get noticed is no longer conventional advertising: it is through “creative disruption”. In his work with G-Star RAW, Ray has been particularly clever about how to grab the attention of the media and subvert the codes of the fashion industry.

“Fashion is always about breaking codes. There is built-in obsolescence in the product, that’s why they have to change it every six months,” says Ray. “We decided to hijack a New York fashion show. When people expect a young funky denim brand from Europe, they expect a super-hot A-list celebrity. We didn’t do this. We put a 72-year-old man on the catwalk, got him to look pretty good and made him recite poetry from the early 1900s. This blew people away.”

The old man was Dennis Hopper, reading Rudyard Kipling on the catwalk.

From there onwards Ray continued to steer G-Star in surprising directions. Pop-up nightclubs, exhibitions and interesting campaigns, often driven by carefully chosen celebrities raised the brand’s profile in the US.

It’s cheaper than advertising and it creates more impact.”

Essentially it comes down to desire, claims Ray. “Much is about getting people horny for product. People like to be horny.”

Incidentally, Daddy G from Massive Attack is up on stage mixing some tunes throughout Shubhankar Ray's talk.

Watch the Interview with Shubhankar Ray