A look at the (excellent) Dr Martens brand

August 19, 2016

Dr. Martens is a brand that’s interesting for its success, its near-bankruptcy and its glorious revival. As well as, of course, for its eclectic fanbase that has stretched across generations and styles.

A few things that stand out about Doctor Martens are:

Working class pride

Dr. Martens transitioned from £2 work boot to fashion/rebellion statement (depending on your viewpoint), when skinheads in the 1960s wanted to wear the same boots that their dads had. They wanted to show that they were proud of their working class roots and that they rejected society’s unspoken assumption that everyone would want to clamber up the ‘social ladder’. The first high profile Dr. Marten’s wearer was Pete Townshend of The Who, giving the boots their first music-orientated publicity.

This part of Dr. Marten’s history is championed in their 2014 campaign ’Spirit of ’69’ which got Mike Skinner of The Streets on board to direct a film that hoped to educate people that the skinheads were actually part of the first multiracial movement - not neo-nazis. It featured a 'head-to-toe look' as well as a tie in with Trojan Records to produce its own stylishly packaged music record.

Nostalgia

Now that Dr. Martens has celebrated its 50th birthday, many associated the brand with their (often misspent) youth. This could be part of the reason that the company nearly went bankrupt around the millennium, when sales fell so sharply that all but one of their UK factories closed. But nostalgia was also a reason that drove so many people to embrace the boots again.

My favourite campaign of Dr. Martens', 'First and Forever', centres on these memories. It’s very well timed: after their decline around the year 2000 they tapped into people’s nostalgia for the brand they once loved. Perhaps just enough time had passed for the boots to cycle back into fashion again. This was brought to life with English models du jour Agyness Deyn and Ash Stymest, basically acting out how I wish my teen years had looked. They are shot doing all the British teenagery things - a windswept trip to the romantically abandoned seaside, putting their feet up on the seats at the back of the bus, chilling in scrap yards.

Now that Dr. Martens has celebrated its 50th birthday, many associated the brand with their (often misspent) youth. This could be part of the reason that the company nearly went bankrupt around the millennium, when sales fell so sharply that all but one of their UK factories closed. But nostalgia was also a reason that drove so many people to embrace the boots again.

Practicality as a statement

Dr. Martens' utilitarian style means that their footwear remains in fashion, and keeps coming back in vogue over and over again. Dr. Martens are practical, sturdy and exude an air of ready-for-anything cool. Ideally stomping around festivals, jumping about on stage or riding a wrecking ball.

Plus they’re an investment, they’re fabled to last forever and have the benefit of getting better with age – an antidote to the Primark-age of disposable fashion. They're the absolute antithesis of Louboutins, whose ideals are being so loaded that walking about with ease is not a necessity. DMs tie in to a fantasy that you’re not spending most of your life sitting on a tube or at a desk, similarly to Levis projection of American working class mythology. They exude a creative, self-made, salt-of-the-earth vibe that is reflected in the design of their stores, which are all exposed brick and salvaged materials, naturally.

Collaborations

A major strength of Dr Martens is their eclectic collaborations. From Liberty to Adventure Time, they don’t pigeon hole themselves to one style or generation, instead moulding themselves to whatever it is the consumer wants to express. On their website, they describe their appeal as a brand that has been adopted by a “diverse range of tribes, celebrities, musicians and free-thinking individuals – each subverting and twisting the boots and shoes to their own personal needs, attitudes and identity.”

In 2012 Liberty featured them as part of their yearlong ‘National Treasures’ initiative with their campaign ‘Wild Nature’ that juxtaposes Liberty florals and Dr. Martens' industrial origins in some lovely shop windows.

On another end of the DM spectrum was their (pretty awesome) collaboration with Adventure Time that involved wonderfully kitsch character boots and a flash bounce mob on Carnaby Street.

Their latest campaign, 'Stand for Something', uses social media to champion the customers themselves. Their creative agency, Odd, explains:

"To celebrate this diversity and to bring to life the brand’s positioning of rebellious self-expression, Dr. Martens are launching an integrated global campaign, which will hero real Dr. Martens’ authentic characters; who wear their boots and shoes with passion and pride, and their own personal stories about what they stand for.”

The adverts are compilations of candid snapshots of their lives (much like an Instagram feed) and how Dr. Martens are perfect for their lifestyle.

This has been very effective and resulted in the brand's most successful sales month in their history. I'm super interested to see what their next campaign will be and would personally love to see something that showcases their amazing history.

Dr. Martens are a Great British Brand because they parallel and are sewn into the fabric of our culture. Much like Britain itself, they have come to embrace and represent so many different cultures, attitudes and styles - their history is a melting pot and I can't wait to see which future tribes embrace them in the years to come.

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