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Tommy Hilfiger styles Web site with Net music

With a Net radio station and artists such as Britney Spears splashed across its marquee, Tommy.com seems more like an entertainment site than a clothing retailer.

With so many hipsters shopping online, you would think Tommy Hilfiger's new Web site would sell the fashion designer's popular jeans or cologne.

But with a Net radio station that plays everything from hip-hop to metal, and artists such as Britney Spears and Sugar Ray splashed across its marquee, Tommy.com seems more like an entertainment site than a clothing retailer.

And that is exactly the point.

In launching an entertainment-focused site, Hilfiger may be trying to avoid conflicts with retailers and other problems that come with e-commerce.

Hilfiger could be taking a cue from Levi's, which tried to sell clothing directly to consumers online but backed out this year after finding that it was too expensive and that it cut into its retail partners' sales. And Hilfiger is doing well in retail outlets; for the third quarter of this year, the company's net revenue was $561.6 million.

The Web site is solely focused on building Hilfiger's brand.

"Tommy.com is an extension of our multimedia brand marketing plan," Hilfiger said in a statement.

Tommy Hilfiger's TV ads, print ads and fashion shows have been steeped in music culture. The company has promoted concerts for the Rolling Stones, Jewel and others, and retail stores give away free CDs with purchases. Thus, Tommy.com has been set up to align Hilfiger's brand with a certain kind of lifestyle--that of the cool, athletic music lover.

Music on the Net is arguably one of the hottest online sectors. In the past six months alone, a slew of sites has popped up to try to garner advertising or music sales revenue by luring music listeners to their digital downloads, articles and videos.

Hilfiger may be fresh to the Net, but he realized the power of affiliating his brand with music long ago.

"Music is probably the best source of fashion information in the world," Hilfiger said on his site. "[Musicians] have created unusual styles--styles that have come into the fashion world and basically taken over."

But teen-agers and trendsetters are a slippery bunch. No matter how many "exclusive" model or rock star interviews Tommy.com carries, Net users have a plethora of other online music offerings from which to choose, from MTV.com to MP3.com and Spinner.com.

Tommy.com's missing e-commerce link could be a dicey decision, too. Jupiter Communications projects that consumer spending online will grow to $78 billion in 2003 from $14.9 billion this year and $7.8 billion last year. The lack of an online shopping center could frustrate the site's visitors: They can see and experience Tommy clothes, but they can't point, click and buy.

The key to Hilfiger staying

Tommy Hilfiger
at a glance

HQ: Hong Kong  
CEO: Joel J. Horowitz  
Employees: 2,300  
Annual sales: $1.68 billion  
Annual income: $173.72 million  
Ticker: TOM  
Exchange: NYSE

More:
Tommy Hilfiger quotes
Tommy Hilfiger news

Source: Bloomberg 12/16/99

on top is to continue building an image with buyers, the company says. That is why Hilfiger hopes that the crowd searching for music on the Net is the same one that would wear clothes from the Tommy line. Along with asking visitors how often a person buys Tommy clothes, the Web site also asks: "What kinds of music do you listen to?"

"Tommy is really all about lifestyle," a company representative said. "People who are following music and entertainment are the same people who are purchasing Tommy Hilfiger. The site was designed to talk to the customer in a language they understand."

Hilfiger's move to use Net music to drive product sales is a trend those in the music industry say will continue to grow.

The secret to this tactic is to be genuine, says Jon Cohen, co-founder of marketing firm Cornerstone Promotion, which also uses music and the Net to promote products by well-known companies such as Nike, Sprite and Sega.

"It's absolutely going to be a new concept in marketing," Cohen added. "But kids know when they are being sold and when it's natural."

Hilfiger, who is known for being passionate about music, may have the right formula.

"Tommy really takes the whole culture of Hilfiger and entrenches it with the artists he is working with," Cohen said. "By building a site that does not have a commerce end, he is just hammering that home. It doesn't look like he's just paying them to wear his stuff."

The point of nurturing the "Tommy culture," however, is to sell fashion, the company says. And Tommy.com isn't completely void of commerce. Rock Style, a book by Hilfiger with Anthony DeCurtis that chronicles how fashion has been affected by the music world, goes on sale online Monday for $39.95.

"Eventually e-commerce is something they will explore for the site, but the main initiative is to drive traffic into retail stores," Hilfiger's representative said.

Meanwhile, the growing crop of small record labels using the Net to try to promote unknown musicians hopes that guys like Hilfiger will use their reach to help new artists with their big break.

"The whole lifestyle concept can make these bands available to fans," said Wayne Irving, president of SpinRecords.com. "We're negotiating deals with a dozen or so retailers to promote our independent artists. The Net brings this together."