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From Depths of Winter, Good News for Brands

by Jon Berry , 12.02.2014

To those who think a little Polar Vortex would knock New Yorkers off their fashion game, we have two words this winter: Canada Goose. As snow and cold have put this city in the deep freeze, Canada Goose’s pricy, goose- and duck-down parkas and jackets have become a must-have item among the cognoscenti – the “Subzero” of the subzero.

For students of consumer trends, the proliferation of outerwear bearing the unmistakable, red-white-and-blue, shoulder-patch logo, emblazoned with a map of Canada, a flourish of maple leafs, and the words “Canada Goose Arctic Program,” suggests that the recent upward trend in economic data is more than a false spring.

In aspirations, the starting point for consumer spending, we are seeing distinct signs that the long, cold, lonely winter of recession is giving way. One of the major stories this year in Roper Reports Worldwide, our annual global survey of consumers, has been the shift in brand attitudes.

Growing numbers of consumers globally say they “only” buy products or services from “a trusted brand” (+7 points since 2011). More also attest to the quality of well-known brands (+3 points since 2011).

And it’s not just in China, India, Brazil, and other developing economies that for years have been the engine of global brand growth. Some of the biggest gains the past two years in professing to buy only trusted brands have been in the developed world –  North America (+11 points since 2011), Western Europe (+7), and Developed Asia (+7) – the markets hit hardest by the crash.

Similarly this is not just a “1% phenomenon.” Brands’ allure is up among the middle- and lower-class as well as the affluent; among people who are lukewarm on their financial future as well as those who are bullish; even among those who are scrimping to save money through tactics like scouting for coupons and waiting for sales to make purchases.

Canada Goose makes a fitting symbol for this shifting brandscape. For those who can afford it, the 57-year-old brand, which prides itself on its Canadian heritage (“Cold weather is part of our national identity”), offers a hard-to-top level of cold-weather performance. It’s not cheap: The Expedition parka, designed for “extreme” cold (-30F and colder), retails for upward of $700. Still, its fans are legion: A Winnipeg, Canada, hotel doorman, in a review on Amazon, writes that he was given an Expedition as part of his winter dress code. “Within my first shift of having this jacket,” he says, “I fell in love with it. As I am writing this, it is -42C. I have never been cold wearing this jacket and doubt I ever will be.” He’s now planning to buy one for his personal use.

On the surface, the brand clearly seems positioned for the well-heeled, another manifestation of the exhilarating growth of the luxury market and disquieting erosion of middle-class brands that The NY Times recently reported on. But a quick survey of colleagues and friends shows Canada Goose has made broader inroads as well – testimony to how far people are going to stay toasty.

It’s also spawned knock-offs conveying the verisimilitude of the real thing with a more middle-class price tag – the ultimate tribute to a rising brand. One colleague came back from the holidays with a gray, fur-hooded parka that looks like a Canada Goose, right down to a cool, red-and-white logo, featuring a bear and the legend “Authentic North West Polar Expedition.” It may not be the genuine article. Still, he says, “it’s been a good jacket. It’s really warm.” In November, Canada Goose sued Sears for copyright enfringement over a coat that it said crossed too far over the line. A Google search of “Canada Goose knockoff” turned up 855,000 results. In the end, price-value tends to win out. In a rising market for brands, there should be opportunities for multiple price points.

For more on Roper Reports Worldwide, including how to purchase global or country-level data or consulting on our brand research or other topics, please email info-roperconsulting@gfk.com.

Jon Berry is a vice president in GfK Consumer Trends’ New York City office. Follow Jon Berry on Twitter @Trendsmonk