George Zimmer Isn't the Only Reason Young People Don't Shop at Men's Wearhouse

George Zimmer Isn't the Only Reason Young People Don't Shop at Men's Wearhouse
George Zimmer, second from left in 1999
Photograph by Ben Margot/AP Photo

In the days since the public split between George Zimmer and Men’s Wearhouse, much fun has been made of the company’s anachronistic ads, and it has been easy to point to Zimmer as the embodiment of Men’s Warehouse’s inability to engage younger shoppers. There’s probably some truth to that: You can put sunglasses on a middle-aged, bearded suit-salesman, but he’s still EveryDad.

Jettisoning Zimmer, though, may not solve Men’s Wearhouse’s problems overnight. “All suit manufacturers have had the same issue. Casual Fridays and wearing anything you want to work really has harmed the suit industry,” says Jan Slater, dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois and a former advertising agency owner. What’s more, there’s a medium problem. TV advertising is one of the staples of Zimmer-era Men’s Warehouse, and younger buyers aren’t watching television at 7 o’clock at night. “They’re not big on traditional advertising,” says Kevin Horne, an independent marketing strategist and adjunct professor of marketing at Baruch College in New York. “This has to be digital, two-way, user-generated content.”

It’s not even clear that millennials, who graduated into a moribund U.S. economy and face weak earnings, will ever cotton to business suits the way older generations did. “If you ask anyone, the millennials aren’t going to wear suits,” says Horne. Men’s Warehouse is “infatuated with this notion that ‘Oh, young people will eventually catch up and act like the old people’ vis-a-vis dress wear.” Maybe so; or maybe we’re in an era of jeans and chinos forever.

Either way, Zimmer’s firing doesn’t mean his days as a pitchman are automatically over. Men’s Wearhouse retains rights to use his image and some 500 hours of recorded footage, although a report in Advertising Age says that the company would need to pay $250,000 each year for the privilege. The company has acknowledged Zimmer’s marketing importance, noting as recently as an April regulatory filing that he served as “the primary advertising spokesman” whose loss “could have a material adverse effect on the securities markets’ view of our prospects and materially harm our business.”

What’s in that 500 hours of footage? The latest television commercials have portrayed a mellower Zimmer addressing the changing role of suits in the modern wardrobe: more casual, an expression of individuality that is less encumbered by traditional rules. One ad even shows a tattooed man wearing a suit and tie. “”The bottom line when it comes to suits is you don’t have to be one to wear one,” Zimmer says in one ad. In another: “It’s not so much the brand of suit that defines the man as it is the brand of man who wears it.”

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