Memos from Asia

Bench: Filipino Apparel Taking over the World

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One of the hardest industries to penetrate, then and now, would probably be the clothing industry. People have varying clothing preferences. Some cannot be bothered by stressing about every day on what clothes to wear. Some value price, aesthetic, comfort, and functionality in clothes.

Aside from these, the clothing industry also has some strong international and local brands already. Most of the people would already have their go-to preferred brands, stores, or channels to purchase.

So, imagine how difficult it would be for a start-up clothing business if these were the target markets and competition that you had.

Bench’s History

This was what welcomed Ben Chan when he first started Bench, initially a Philippine men’s apparel brand, in 1987. It started as a small business of designing and selling clothes in the local department store. With the help of his sister and his brother-in-law, they would then be launching the biggest fashion success of the country. (Primer, https://primer.com.ph/business/2017/10/09/business-talk-with-ben-chan-of-bench/)

The business was focused on giving trendy designs at a very affordable price. The brand had a very distinct visual that captivated a lot of the department store shoppers. It soon gained more attention through time as a brand continued to that give access to up-to-date fashion for the tightly budgeted masses.

Although the business grew faster compared to any local competition, it seemed like it was just growing from within the department store where it was selling from. Bench had a huge local following then, but it was limited. If it did not find a way to infiltrate a new market, the business would hit a plateau and stop growing. And despite the success it was enjoying, Ben Chan’s dream was far from being done. It was only starting.

Marketing Pioneer

This dilemma was soon going to be solved by one of the biggest marketing gambles on the Philippine clothing industry at that time. They pioneered hiring a celebrity endorser to make a television advertisement. They chose to tap, Richard Gomez, a Filipino actor who was at the peak of his career at that time. Ben Chan, felt like the actor embodied the image that they wanted to carve for the brand. This commercial will then win a lot of awards and would soon be considered a classic.

This was a big marketing risk since it was the first time that it will be done for a local clothing brand in the country. The company did not know how the Filipinos would react to this kind of marketing move. It was a move that was usually only explored by international brands then. And truthfully, it was not much of a risk for any of these brands since they already have a huge following and capital to spare. But for a clothing brand that was only a few years old, this investment was a huge risk financially.

It proved to be a good move in the end. They were able to reach and introduce Bench to more customers in the country. They were also able to penetrate the market of people who would go for known brands. Bench was able to put its brand name on the map.

It also paved the way for how the brand would go forward with their marketing strategies. Getting celebrity endorsers are still practice they do up until today. They have had a lot of local and international celebrity endorsers over the years. International celebrities were also key to their global launch. Some of these international celebrities through the years include Bruno Mars, Cole Sprouse, Adam Levine, and Liam Hemsworth. They also have a wide roster of international Asian celebrity endorsers. Among these are Jerry Yan, Lee Min Ho, Nonie Tao, and more recently Hyun Bin.

From then on, they have explored other advertising media like billboards, magazines, newspaper ads, and promotional events like fan meets and fashion shows.

Memorable Campaigns

The first memorable campaign of Bench was their first TVC which starred Richard Gomez. Their goal primarily was to give the brand a face. They wanted someone who will be able to represent the market that they are targeting then, and Richard was able to get that done. He was a young man in his prime and he carried clothes well. It’s what those in his age aspired to be. He had become one of the pillars of the brand and is still participating in some of the promotions up until now.

Another memorable campaign is when Bench tapped their first international endorser, Nonie Tao in 1996, who was also the launching face for their female apparel line, HerBench. This was a breakthrough for the brand. They were able to secure their first international endorsement and introduce their brand to the female market. This line would soon be able to follow the success of Bench. (Preview PH, https://www.preview.ph/fashion/7-of-bench-s-most-iconic-ad-campaigns-a00192-20170824)

From then on, the company was focused on local endorsers. It was as though they were waiting for the opportunity to land a big jump for their next international endorsement. And true enough, the big leap happened in 2003, when they got Jerry Yan to endorse the brand during the Meteor Garden era. Meteor Garden was a television show that took over a lot of Asian countries during its airing from 2001 to 2002. Securing this endorsement from Jerry, the lead star of the show, was a big step forward for the brand. A lot of people around the world were able to recognize the brand because of this. (Philippine Entertainment Portal, https://www.pep.ph/lifestyle/lifestyle/153073/jerry-yan-first-visit-manila-a721-20200805)

Bench has come a long way from being the department store brand that is used to be. It now has shops outside of the Philippines, which are in the United States, Middle East, China, Myanmar, and Singapore. It has also expanded from its original line of only men’s apparel to offering a ladies’ line, underwear line, fragrances, housewares, food, and other lifestyle goods.

With all these successes, when Ben Chan was asked to site one that he was most proud of, he said that the mere longevity of the business was his biggest accomplishment. It is difficult to start a business in the clothing industry, but it is much harder to keep the brand relevant.

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