What will you do Next?

Here in the UK, high street clothes brand Next are running a competition entitled ‘Make me the Next model 2011’. Basically, they’re asking the general public to help choose the new modelling talent for their next big campaign.

The prizes?

Well for two overall winners will each enjoy a £2,000 shopping spree at Next, the chance to star in a photo-shoot for Next and a special introduction to leading model agency, Storm. Fantastic, right?

Earlier this week tweets started appearing encouraging others to vote for the underdog; as this morning’s Metro Newspaper described, said underdog is the ‘unconventional’ looking Roland B.

Currently, Roland is sitting pretty at the top of the rankings and probably – thanks to a rather huge online following – lengths and breadths ahead of the rest of the competition.

So what do you do Next?

If we examine the competition mechanic more closely we can see that there is every opportunity to remove Roland from the competition after this early stage. To quote:

“The online public vote at next.co.uk/model will decide the Top 250 – all of whom will be invited to London on Friday 29 July, 2011 for a special one-day course at Next’s Runway Academy.

The lucky hopefuls will meet industry experts who will offer invaluable advice on all aspects of modelling, while our panel of judges will choose a Top 50 shortlist to return for the following day’s fabulous, fun-packed, live Grand Final on Saturday 30 July, 2011.”

Whether or not the panel of judges choose Roland B to progress to the final 50 remains to be seen but there is a huge opportunity here and Next would be mad to skip over it.

Next is a part of the old guard when it comes to high street fashion chains; @NextOfficial – while sitting at nigh-on 8000 followers, pales into comparison when you look at TopShop (160k) and ASOS (120k). However, when you look at the more widely-known (and used) social network, Facebook, Next have a very respectable half a million fans.

And this is where things get interesting. Next obviously have a lot of fans out there but by the looks of things, so does Roland B. As my colleague Tim Denyer said to me earlier on today ‘It’s about knowing your audience’ – The board may insist on catwalk models but your fans, the ones that make and break your brand, obviously want something else.

The opportunity here is that this competition has opened the door for Next to be really disruptive and actually embrace change. By allowing Roland B to progress through to the final and – dare I say it – become one of the winners of the overall competition Next is able to make a statement to the rest of the industry along the lines of:

“Our clothes are for everyone. Not just the models we put in our catalogues and our commercials. Everyone.”

Roland B is representing the underdogs of this world and, with the internet behind him, he may well score a victory for them too.

All that remains to be seen, especially now that the story has hit the mainstream press, is whether or not the brand capitalises on his following and support.

Alright it’s not chicken-flavoured Pril, nor is it Bieber in Korea, but there’s a reputation issue on the horizon if this falls over – and Next need to be sure they make the right decision. The people are watching.

Vote for Roland.

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

20 thoughts on “What will you do Next?”

  1. James, do you REALLY believe that the individuals who have conspired to vote Rowland to the top of the NEXT Model competition give a rat’s arse about NEXT merchandise? I totally agree that the fashion industry needs to take a long hard look at itself and the ideals that it portrays, but NEXT would surely risk alienating their existing customer base by pandering to this ephemeral internet meme.

    Fashion by its very nature is aesthetic and we all, whether we like it or not, prefer things that appear a certain way (e.g. Apple). It would be a brave clothiers indeed who chose to present there latest seasons collection using, how can I put this, more varied models.

    Speaking of ‘varied’ models, don’t forget to vote for me http://goo.gl/dDJZK 🙂

    Anonymous Reply:

    Hi Stuart, I agree on your point about the individuals who voted not caring about next, not particularly anyway, but now it has become a running joke in offices up and down the country; “lets piss next off by doing this” – the question is do next come down hard and close this down, and incur the wrath of doing so (backlash in media, perpetuating everything bad about fashion) or do they embrace this, which has given them more PR than the campaign would have ever had otherwise and run with it… Everyone loves a good underdog story, it could be great if they play it right, but it is risky, yes.

    James Whatley Reply:


    “this, which has given them more PR than the campaign would have ever had otherwise”

    Adam Gurney Reply:

    Maybe if NEXT did “pander” to this vote, then maybe they’d make their “fashionable” clothes to fit the roughly 1/3 of the population that their lines currently aren’t big enough for? Just because someone is bigger built, doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate good clothes, it just means they can’t wear them because the vast majority of chains ignore the potential market.

    Stuart Witts Reply:

    How big are these 1/3 of the population? I can assure you that I am no slim figure of a man and I can fit NEXT clothes perfectly well. Clothes manufacturers are a business and clearly they can’t afford to mass produce items for EVERY size, emphasis on the mass as in majority.

    Nobody complains about car manufacturers not catering for the larger individual.

    Adam Gurney Reply:

    In my experience most “fashionable” stores kinda max out at a 38″ waist; now, if NEXT actually do go way above and beyond that then they’re not doing a very good job of advertising that fact (hence why they should embrace Roland B), so my ignorance can be excused.  I think the last time my waist size was 38″ was in my early 20’s when I was in the Army; yes, I am overweight now, but I wasn’t then I’ve just always had a pretty big build and always wondered why I could never get anything to fit even then.  Don’t get me started on the variations in clothing sizes, even when you get into the multiple-X ranges; my sister bought me a Nike hooded top one Christmas that was supposedly XXL, turns out it was only XXL if you were a midget.

    Stuart Witts Reply:

    Adam, I too have suffered at the hands of the variations in clothing sizes 🙂

    James Whatley Reply:

    Hey Stuart,

    Irrespective of how, where or why the campaign to make Roland the winner started, the opportunity to make a positive statement still remains.

    And I LOVE that you’ve entered (voting now) ;D

    Stuart Witts Reply:


    In a way, they made this a positive statement when they opened up the process to the general public. I think it would be unfair to all other entrants, myself included 😉 , to focus on Roland.

    Thanks for the vote 🙂

  2. I’d agree with Stuart. This is not about scoring one for the underdog, it’s an attempt to subvert the perceived intentions of a MOR brand. However, embracing this with some solid rep management creates a #win for Next now. They can then eliminate Roland at the top 250 stage when the groundswell of support / hype / whatever you want to call it dies out and everyone’s forgotten who Roland is.

    James Whatley Reply:

    Fair point Steve (and good to see you here btw), but I’ll say the same thing to you as I said to Stuart: the opportunity to create a positive message here is one that should be embraced.

    My eternal optimism always get the better of me.. 😉

  3. It seems to me that everyone is so busy congratulating themselves on how clever they’ve been subverting this competition that they couldn’t give a monkeys how Roland feels about this. If we’re honest with ourselves, we ALL know it’s some big joke and nothing whatsoever to do with celebrating the underdog.

    Perhaps NEXT would do well to treat Roland like a human being, as it seems everyone else has simply forgotten how to do that!

    James Whatley Reply:

    What, you mean by letting him win fair and square?

  4. I can tell you now Stuart, that as someone who’s working on this (agency rather than Next), Roland is pretty bloody chuffed.

    I’ve pasted my comment on The Guardian’s story about it:
    A public vote should be just that – an open forum for people to determine a favourite(s). They may be open to such contrivances, but that’s a risk you take, and it can of course result in situations like this (which are not necessarily a bad thing, provided you can mitigate against more serious eventualities).If Roland is in the top 250, then he will be considered alongside the other entrants in that number. Who knows – maybe there will be an opportunity somewhere along the line for him to get up on the catwalk, but I’m sure he’s loving the attention at the moment. Good on him.We’ll do what can to try and ensure it is a) not a missed opportunity for Next b) appropriately complements the competition c) creates a resonant story for Next’s substantial community and d) doesn’t leave Roland feeling like a pillock.

    James Whatley Reply:

    Good words.

    Stuart Witts Reply:


    I certainly don’t envy you or NEXT on this one. Whatever they choose to do there will inevitably be those who disagree. Perhaps the agency responsible should have thought more carefully about this whole promotion and switched the mechanic around, letting the public vote on a larger pre-judged shortlist which could have already included a variety of body types.

    Thom James Reply:

    This is the third such competition Next have run, using a similar mechanic (it was run solely through Facebook the first two years), so it’s very much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke..’ 

    I actually fail to see what all the fuss is about. Not sure if people are aware of the process, but the top 250 get to go to a ‘modelling bootcamp’, from which they are whittled down to a final 50. If Roland is in the 250, he’ll be invited to attend the bootcamp, and if he attends, great. The odds of him winning outright are slim (ahem), but he’ll be a welcome part of the journey.

    Ultimately, this has led to PR you can only dream of, and the only thing which could be done to reflect badly on Next is to turf him out of the competition. There are people of all shapes and sizes (and one or two transgender) who enter – Roland is simply fortunate enough to have found himself with a huge groundswell of support behind him.

  5. The next demographic have spoken?

    https://www.facebook.com/nextonline/posts/10150208491948770?notif_t=like The argument, not mine, is that this is driven by the internet, that the competition has been hijacker, and this is exactly why you can’t have nice things. Of course, NEXT should let him through it’d be amazing, livestream the whole thing, create  an entire campaign around him (hell, any little agency got some time, I have!) meet the “internet” halfway. 
    They won’t because sadly, one imagines it requires something that most companies lack; balls. Shame, but i’m not holding my breath for this to be a pivotal moment in conversational marketing.

    Thom James Reply:

    See my comment above.

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