Why People Buy: A look at ASOS
My goal for this blog is to figure out why people buy and how to market pretty much anything.
ASOS – the clothing brand – holds one of those keys.
How ASOS got its start
In the early 2000s, ASOS was a small, niche internet upstart. Topshop was the big fashion brand for regular 15-25 year-olds in the UK.
Topshop had a partnership with Kate Moss and 5-hour queues around their six-story flagship store in the heart of Central London. ASOS had a website.
ASOS’s Niche: Unwitting Celebrity Models
ASOS stands for As Seen On Screen, it’s the original name. They sold clothes that looked like what celebrities had just been paparazzi in.
Stuff like Brad Pitt’s red leather jacket from Fight Club or a t-shirt David Beckham wore as he rolled out of a nightclub.
They were a pioneer in the fast fashion space. Directly and unabashedly copied existing designs.
Why pay a celebrity to model clothes if you can copy what they’ve already modeled?
How did that work out: very fucking well
ASOS kept growing. In no particular order:
- It ditched the overt “as seen on screen” angle
- Rebranded as ASOS.
- It IPO’d.
- It built out its own original clothing lines and;
- Pioneered fashion e-commerce practices that are the norm today: free, easy returns, even if worn. “Try on at home” offers, etc.
- They eventually bought Topshop – aka David bought Goliath
Ok, so that’s the story. But what can we say about why people buy?
Why people buy: to indicate their status
Let’s start with the obvious take about what ASOS can teach us about marketing: teenagers buy things because they want to replicate celebrities.
Clothing is an indicator of our identity. It’s a uniform. By mirroring the clothing of a celebrity we’re saying “we’re in that club; we have similar tastes; we’re a bit like them”.
This is what I mean when I say “to indicate status”.
But, as the influencer marketing and paid endorsement industry will tell you: it’s not just teenagers.
All humans buy things because of the people they look up to. That might be a famous business leader, a sports star, or our boss’s boss.
- A Wall Street Banker buying a Patek Philippe because their boss’s boss has a watch collection
- A San Francisco software developer buying a Patagonia sweater because the VCs all wear them
- Studying Stoicism because a popular LinkedIn commentator does.
Those are all status buys. Leveraging status is an important and overlooked layer of being a Sellout.