I should start by assuring you that I have nothing against UCLA — the school. I always thought of it as a great institution with lots of smart folks. It actually has a very good MBA program, which is one reason I’m so confused by the fact that it decided to launch a clothing brand in China — with brick-and-mortar stores at malls and everything.
And I’m not talking about selling some college sweatshirts and Bruins sports gear here. Actually, that would kind of make sense to me. No, they’re selling khaki pants and preppy jackets and sweater vests that have nothing to do with the university or even California style. UCLA, the clothing brand in China, is like a poor man’s Rugby Ralph Lauren.
Whose genius idea was this? Didn’t anyone do a meaning map? Why did they think this could be good for the 93-year-old brand of an academic institution? Don’t they realize that brand extensions must fit with UCLA’s core capabilities — WHICH DO NOT INCLUDE FASHION??? Wasn’t anyone worried about brand dilution? Brand confusion? For the love of God, why is no one thinking about UCLA’s brand essence???
When I first saw a billboard for this store at a Shenzhen mall, I laughed and assumed that it was a fake store. We see a lot of that around here — fake Armani stores, Disney stores, etc. But then I found this article on LabBrand.com about how “At a time when most American universities are losing endowment money due to the economic crisis, UCLA is earning significant revenue by branding its name as a clothing brand and opening stores worldwide.” The article goes on to mention that there are 15 UCLA stores in Korea and 43 in China. UCLA store revenues are up to $4 million USD annually. The article ends by asking if other universities will follow. (THE ANSWER SHOULD BE HELL NO!!)
We visited a UCLA store several months ago out of morbid curiosity, and it was just as bad as I’d expected it to be. The clothes were frumpy and generic, the prices were surprisingly high, and it was just supremely meh on all levels. I mean, if they’re willing to suffer this level of indignity for a few million dollars, the least they could do is invest in some good designers, don’t you think?
The LabBrand article describes the UCLA store as representing “the ‘smart casual’ style, a brand image conveying the relaxed Southern California lifestyle and American intellectualism” — but sorry, I don’t buy it. This might work on gullible Asian consumers. but it ain’t gonna work on me. I’m not sure exactly what Southern California lifestyle and American intellectualism looks like, but I know it doesn’t look like that. (Also, I was offended by the fact that they didn’t carry any womenswear — at least, not at this location.)
Anyway, one other interesting factoid is that this UCLA retail site is nearly impossible to find on Google. When I search for “UCLA, China” on Google, the top results are all academic stuff, related to their Chinese studies, etc.
When I run the same search on Baidu (China’s own version of Google), the store is the first result.
Interesting, no? Maybe UCLA retail store is a big secret in America? Maybe they’re ashamed, hmmmm? Because, well, they should be.