Gucci is banning influencer gift giving. Mr. Porter, Net-A-Porter, and Farfetch are now banned from giving Gucci products to bloggers or influencers.
Is Gucci seeking more control of their image, or is there something else happening?
In 2017, over 50% of Gucci’s sales came from millennials, a generation that has been particularly troubling for luxury brands. Millennials have an appetite for new things and they are driven by content, emotions and personal connections.
Influencer marketing isn’t a new thing, but what we classify as ‘an influencer’ is. Fashion brands have long used fashion magazines, editorial hype and strategic public relations gifting to celebrities, experts, and publications as a way to get their products in front of consumers.
In the luxury segment, creating buzz in the market, high visibility and developing a reputation is necessary in order to build a distinctive brand in the mind of the consumers.
But today, a new trustworthy source has appeared: digital influencers. Consumers are in control of how they interact with brands; and they show a preference for the opinion of trusted individuals and influencers over hearing from the brands themselves. Consumers trust an influencer’s opinion more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement.
With the rise of social media, more brands have been sending social media influencers gifts to raise awareness and reach new audiences on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or blogs. There’s micro-influencers (10k to 100k followers), macro-influencers (101k to 500k followers), and mega-influencers (501k to 1.5 million followers).
Social media influencers provide luxury brands with an authentic and engaging content for their high-net-worth consumers. Influencers are tasked with creative content production and distribution to leverage their online following base to drive reach (and sales). Basically, they take pictures and write captions about stuff.
If social media and digital marketing continues to explode in the way it has been, the influencer industry is projected to be a $5–$10 billion market in the next 5 years. Companies are seeing a return on their marketing dollars when they invest in influencers; their products get shared to the influencers network and influence people to buy those products. In fact, 84% of brands will integrate an element of influencer marketing as part of their plans this year.
The opportunity for luxury brands to build authenticity, increase brand engagement, and even heighten its aspirational value through influencers is extensive. The right partnership can help brands convey their message and sell their product. When the luxury brands launch a new product or a new campaign, getting an influencer to endorse their product is one of the best things they can do.
But Gucci isn’t into it anymore.
It seems counter-intuitive for luxury brands built around exclusivity to use platforms that are all about accessibility.
In the past (pre-social media), through the acquisition of physical goods or property and an air of exclusivity and mystery, only the wealthiest people had access to show off luxury goods. But luxury is no longer about shrouding a brand in mystery, but more about authenticity, quality, and personality.
Today, luxury brands are conveyed through unique experiences and the desire to express status or flaunt wealth.
A brand uses verbal and non-verbal DNA to articulate its core values in order to develop their identity in the luxury sector. Luxury fashion goes beyond products: it’s the story around the brand–its heritage, story, service, exclusivity, and excellence. They add value to their products and services by offering meaning, prestige, creativity, and intangible value to their customers.
Luxury brands have historically approached mass media with caution in order to manage their brand.
They use strict brand style guidelines (sometimes called a Brand Book or Brand Bible), which codify how they present itself to the world, like a reference tool that helps maintain consistency by demonstrating what a brand looks, feels and sounds like. A brand style guide encompasses a brand’s story, logo, editorial voice, imagery, typography, and color palette.
One of the main benefits of working with influencers is the creation of original content, inspired by the influencer’s own aesthetic, look, and feel. While this can be an excellent way to show consumers real ways to carry a Gucci Marmont handbag and how to style those Gucci loafers, it also means Gucci isn’t in full control of the images.
Influencer-created content requires luxury brands to loosen up their creative control. Brands no longer have exclusive control over their image. Sure, they approve the content that influencers create and dictate where the content is distributed with contracts and agreements, but they aren’t in full control.
Influencer marketing is a grey area with many pitfalls: selecting the right type of partnerships, avoiding inflated user bases and engagement rates (bot followers and comments), and measuring ROI are all problematic aspects.
Sure, gifting influencers product has proven to bring in sales and in building brand awareness among millennial and Gen Z shoppers; but social media users are starting to become skeptical. Consumers today are acutely aware of gifting and freebies — even when posts are not accompanied by a proper FTC disclosure.
In July 2018, Dior did a digital campaign for their relaunch of their once-iconic Saddle bag, where they had 100+ influencers to post Saddle bag content at the same time. The bag turned up on the feeds of big names including Miranda Kerr, fashion bloggers Susie Bubble, Bryanboy and Chiara Ferragni.
Picture after picture, if you followed even one fashion blogger, featured the Dior Saddle bag. It was EVERYWHERE. In the luxury sector, a product being everywhere means it’s no longer exclusive. What Dior did, perhaps unintentionally, was oversaturate the market.
The Instagram account Diet Prada, aka the digital fashion police that calls out design rip-offs, noted that influencers had been posting pictures with the bag on Instagram over the past 24-hours with only a handful of users acknowledging that it was gifted to them. No #sponsored or #ad appeared anywhere in their posts.
Under FTC (Federal Trade Commission) laws in the US, and CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) rules in the UK, any posts that are paid for by a brand, or where a brand has gifted the product with an expectation of endorsement, must include a clear notice that the post is an advertisement, or sponsored post.
In order for influencer marketing to be effective, it needs to feel authentic and real — as opposed to feeling like a carefully orchestrated advertising campaign. Dior’s campaign felt unauthentic.
When this type of marketing appears calculated, inorganic, and relentless, fashion houses run the risk of overexposing the pieces they’re promoting — or even worse, decreasing customers’ desire for them on account of their ubiquity. Suddenly, digital influencers, who consumers are supposed to trust, seem like straight up advertisements. It can come off as cheesy — or worse, desperate. There are few influencers to trust with honest opinions nowadays—many are not honest about what was given for free and what they purchased themselves.
The main objective for luxury brands is striking a balance between an air of exclusivity and accessibility. In our minute-by-minute social media update society, there’s a short window between something appearing trendy and cool and when it’s completely played-out and cliché. First, an item is really popular, and then suddenly, consumers have seen it one million times and they’re bored. But if it’s a classic, coveted item that people still can’t get access to — or if a label only produces a limited quantity of product that can’t easily be purchased in-store or online — people will still want it (i.e. a Chanel Classic flap bag or an Hermes Birkin bag).
Will the Dior Saddle bag have a shorter shelf life because of it? Only time will tell. The fashion community was initially off-put by this “sponsored content,” but weeks later, and I’m still seeing Saddle bags all over white marble tables with matcha lattes and cruffins.
In contrast, some luxury brands have been able to use influencers in a positive way. Chanel leveraged this trend for the launch of its new No. 5 L’Eau perfume when they invited high profile guests and carefully selected influencers to the South of France to visit its perfume production facility and documented their journey using two brand-created hashtags, #newchanel5 and #chanelgrasse.
This exclusive (and yet accessible) behind the scenes getaway garnered high engagement on Instagram and the influencers’ followers were in turn inspired to create their own content around the new perfume. The latter is the ideal outcome: not only did the content created by influencers inspired consumers to buy the perfume, but it also inspired those consumers to create their own content, and thus inspiring their own followers, creating a social media marketing domino effect.
The Resurrection Of Gucci
Gucci has always projected an aura of elitism and luxury. I’m sure you’ve noticed the increase in Gucci products everywhere, and it’s not by accident. Gucci’s phenomenal performance, especially among millennials, is not entirely due to its digital marketing success; rather to the dream team that is spearheading the brand’s resurgence: CEO Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro Michele.
Gucci has managed to integrate digital connection and the in-store experience to present a true omnichannel customer experience. Gucci has woven e-commerce, social media, digital marketing and the integration of mobile apps into the tapestry of its legacy offline business.
To reinvent Gucci, the Bizzarri-Michele team knew they had to get rid of old ideas that were holding the brand back. They stopped using the corporate office black-and-white pictures of past celebrities, like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and started bringing Gucci into the present.
To do this, Alessandro looked for inspiration in the real world: both from the past and in the present (digital) era.
While the previous Gucci team deemphasized the Gucci GG logo in design, Bizzarri and Michele dug into the company archives and resurrected its GG logo to feature it prominently. The results were immediate: six out of seven of Gucci’s best-selling and high-margin accessories have been created by Michele.
Michele has also been given room to play with the classic GG logo, a freedom hard to imagine at any other luxury brand. In an unprecedented move, Michele invited graffiti artist Trevor Andrew, aka GucciGhost, to collaborate on a collection after they discovered his Gucci-inspired street art. Where other luxury brands would more likely file a lawsuit against such logo tampering, Gucci embraced it.
The #GucciGram campaign featured a series of artworks inspired by Gucci’s house prints created by Insta-famous and up-and-coming Instagrammers and artists. Gucci recognized that we’re all on the internet all the time, and that every era of art can be accessed all at once: ideal for a cultural collision.
Alessandro chose to commission artists who use the internet to disseminate new forms of imagery to reinterpret Gucci motifs in their own way: for example, using the GG Blooms pattern to make a riff on a Magritte painting or a satirical guide on how to tell a real Gucci from a knockoff. These artists create art on their own terms and present it directly to their audiences while using a shared cultural experience: the internet, and the heritage of Gucci. A luxury brand with a meta sense of humor? Perfect for the millennial generation.
Another campaign was a collaboration with Internet artists such as designer @williamcult (William Ndatila), documentarian @littlebrownmushroom (Alec Soth) and photography team @meatwreck to create a curated collection of memes. Gucci took advantage of this trend when they launched the new Le Marche des Merveilles collection of watches. The brand commissioned a handful of famous artists to create memes with Gucci imagery. The campaign, called — That Feeling When Gucci or #TFWGucci — spread across the Internet, reaching new eyes and find new purposes.
It’s apparent from these campaigns that Gucci understands and appreciates artists, social media creators and digital influencers. Gifting a product isn’t enough for Gucci; they want to work with artists and pay them for it. They want to allow artists and influencers to reinterpret the Gucci heritage and brand in their own way.
In an era where brands expect Instagram content in exchange for gifting product, Gucci has an opportunity to truly appreciate artists and content creators for the art they create.
I’m wondering if we’ll see more GucciGhost-style collaborations in the future, where Gucci works directly with influencers to create custom pieces, much like what Louis Vuitton has been doing with artists like Stephen Sprouse, Yayoi Kusama, and Jeff Koons, or letting customers personalize their own pieces like the My LV World Tour collection.
Where do you think Gucci is headed?