The Magic of the Window Display

Just before Christmas, Rankin Creative were obsessing over the show-stopping power of window displays, as brands surpassed themselves to create festive magic. A fair few of us are (sadly) old enough to remember the 1980s Kim Cattrall, Andrew McCarthy, hit Mannequin, and found ourselves debating just what it is about this medium that makes it so powerful that yet feels so under utilised by brands?

“The luxury store window is literally a window into another world! It can transport you, through your own imagination and visually defines a brand narrative in the most magical ways” – Rankin, Founder.

In an age of Web3, the metaverse and boundless digital sorcery, the humble window display can often be overlooked. But as luxury brands increasingly try to open their brands up to new audiences and cultivate wider brand love, the window display remains an incredibly powerful way to share stories, and generate earned media.

The power of window displays lies partly in their easy accessibility. Through creating a spectacle on the streets, window displays can build an aspirational dream for anyone to aspire to, offering a glimpse into a world others may never dream existed. Selfridges’ displays on Oxford Street have famously transcended being merely retail merchandising,  their windows are a melting pot of art, craft, culture and magic, involving everything from  collaborations with young up and coming artists, designers,  art school students and constantly setting new standards for innovative creative excellence.

Their commitment to sustainability shows through in a really playful way: with their props often displaying more than a touch of the upcycled DIY.   Brand codes are playfully interpreted, whilst always staying true to their heritage and legacy.

Selfridges’ windows serve as pavement galleries, delighting diverse audiences of all ages and backgrounds. And of course, they’re open for anyone to enjoy:  totally free to enjoy, with no sign up, entry fee, or smartphone needed. Just pure fun and delight for anyone and everyone who wants to join in. In this sense, they’re a truly accessible art form. 

Cultivating brand love

Such window displays cultivate wider love whilst staying true to the brand essence. Look, for example, at Ginza Maison Hermès’ display last year in Tokyo: playfully responding to Hermes’ 2022 theme of ‘lightness’, Studio Simone Post created a window display made entirely of marshmallows. Whilst evoking a sense of childhood nostalgia, the giant yarn-like marshmallow cables also cleverly nod to Hermes’ expertise in hand stitching.

Crucially, these efforts do not dilute the brand or fail to engage the main target audience either. In fact, they spark opportunities for brands to create more exclusive, personalised experiences;  everything from a bespoke tablescaping masterclass held by the window designer to the launch of a new collection as we’ve just seen with the Kusama x LV launch in NYC, with Kusama live painting in the window.

It is the perfect two-pronged approach: engaging both existing audiences, whilst building up brand awareness amongst an audience who want to be inspired, but may not be able to buy the brand – yet. And this latter point is crucial: with their circus-like theatrical delight naturally enchanting curious children, window displays can imprint the magic of a brand into our minds and build life-long brand love. But they also serve an even more inspiring purpose: window displays can be people’s first exposure to installation art and set design, inspiring creativity itself.

 It is not an exaggeration to say that people look forward to seeing the best window displays, and will actively go out of their way to see and experience them in person.  At a time where people rarely even stop scrolling on an advert, the fact that window displays still have the ability to make people want to even turn up and experience the brand in person is of note. But even more interestingly, is how they manage to actually get people talking.Walk past the Fortnum & Mason displays on Piccadilly, and you may be struck with how many people stop and strike up conversation as they grin with childlike delight at the displays.

An earned media super-power

Likewise, at a time where brands understand the power of earned media, window displays offer a golden opportunity for user-generated content. Interestingly, they are one of the few modes of branding consumers share without appearing to ‘humble brag’: sharing a picture of a window display feels more aligned with sharing an interesting exhibition, rather than boasting about a purchase.

 Their natural share-ability obviously helps too. Designed to grab attention on the street, their bright and bold visual style – helpfully framed in a neat rectangle – translates with ease onto our screens. Through then integrating technology into these physical displays – e.g. scannable QR codes – window displays allow brands to create a seamless brand experience that melds together the physical and the digital. In doing so, they ensure the luxury experience flows through every brand touchpoint.

Window displays are magical, injecting a sense of joy and wonder into the street as we go about our everyday routines. This type of frivolous escapism can be easily dismissed. But actually this allows brands to play an important purpose in people’s lives, inspiring hope and creativity, and allowing everyone and anyone to escape and dream, democratising a brand and luxury experience. In the great Diane Vreeland’s words   ‘You’re not supposed to give people what they want, you’re supposed to give what they don’t know they want yet’

Window displays are a superpower that let luxury brands do just that.