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.