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November 2018

Louis Vuitton’s New Codes of Luxury.

By Harry Steer.


When Louis Vuitton named Virgil Abloh their new Artistic Director for Menswear in March, the announcement was met with mixed reactions, from the fashion world and beyond. The American designer’s appointment represents the peak of a relatively quick rise through the fashion ranks. Critics pointed to the fact that he lacks any classical fashion qualifications, which they suggested means he is not qualified to move the luxury brand forward. Some of the strongest criticism came from Raf Simons, Calvin Klein’s Chief Creative Officer, who accused Abloh of lacking originality. Saying: “He’s a sweet guy… but I’m inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original.”

I believe that Raf Simons is looking at luxury fashion through a traditional lens, predominantly focusing on the apparel produced and ignoring the wider positioning of the brand – specifically, how Louis Vuitton is using brand communication to engage its customers and alter their perceptions.

Over the past couple of years Gucci and Louis Vuitton have become two of the fastest-growing brands in the world, helping the luxury fashion and accessories sector grow by 42% since 2017 (Source: Interbrand). However, when you look closely at this growth, it becomes clear that while both brands are growing, it is Gucci who are winning with the younger audience. At Keko London, we define this younger audience as a ‘Modern Affluent Consumer’. This audience is of increasing importance and now accounts for 85% of the growth in the luxury sector (Bain). Furthermore, as this audience matures, they will increase their share of the audience and their value contribution to the luxury market. For Gucci, the benefits of engaging this audience are already clear, with the brand reporting revenue up 49% in the first quarter of this year. Half of that revenue is attributed to consumers aged 18 to 35.

Gucci kick-started their efforts to appeal to the modern affluent audience when they appointed Alessandro Michele as Creative Director in 2015. Since taking his position, Michele has transformed Gucci from traditional luxury to a culturally relevant brand that appeals to the modern affluent consumer. Considering this alongside Vuitton’s success last year with Kim Jones’ Vuitton Supreme collaboration, Abloh’s appeal to Vuitton is in his ability to continually tap into the modern affluent zeitgeist, whether through his 3.2 million Instagram followers, his label Off-White, his numerous brand collaborations or his DJing.

To appeal to the modern affluent audience, both Gucci and Vuitton have set out to move away from traditional luxury brand behaviour, using exclusivity and high price points to create demand. Instead, each aspires to tap into modern affluent values and aspirations. Abloh explicitly referenced this when he stated that the first thing he was going to do in his new role was define the ‘new codes’ for the brand and fashion in general. He explained that they would come from his interest in what people wear – and to achieve this he would develop a luxury version of that reality. This will involve focusing not just on design but on how the brand communicates with its consumers, including the release of products, the runway shows and the way it interacts with the global political mood.

This is not new territory for Abloh. When he launched Off-White in 2013, he stated his ambition as “to give my point of view and merge street sensibilities in a proper fashion context. I think that if I can merge the two, it’ll make something interesting.” Since starting his new role, Virgil has managed to carry this over, with much of what has been produced being defined as street wear. However, this has not come at the cost of traditional luxury codes: craftsmanship, focus, origin and rarity. Instead of casting these values aside, it sees them demonstrated in a manner that appeals better to the modern affluent audience. One of the best demonstrations is found in craftsmanship. For the latest range, he claims, “…a number of garments in the collection are laser-precise studies of the most normal, basic things that men wear today,” he says. “We’re making a double-faced hoodie that [has] the same hand-stitching that you would find on a handmade tailored suit.” Another take on a fashion basic is a crew-neck T-shirt in leather, or a jean jacket in mink.

At Abloh’s recent Paris fashion show, he went on to elaborate more on his new codes, stating: “the people have changed, and so fashion had to.” However, it would be cheapening his work to suggest that Abloh’s new codes are solely based on street fashion. His Vuitton Paris Fashion Show was centred around a spray-painted rainbow catwalk, matching the palette of the collection and lined by 1,000 students from Paris. The models had representatives from every continent in the world (bar Antarctica) – a fact highlighted on a map that read “We are the world”. By creating an inclusive and diverse show, Virgil demonstrated his understanding of millennials beyond street wear. He tapped into their values while aligning them to the traditional rules of luxury, in an effort to empower the next generation.

When you consider Virgil’s work since joining Vuitton, it could be argued that he hasn’t completely rewritten the codes of luxury. Indeed, a more honest description would be that  he has simply reinterpreted them for a modern affluent audience. To his credit, Abloh admits as much, stating that his “premier position is just to translate brand into current culture…”

“The brands that I choose to work with are usually best in category and they also have some heritage to them,” he continues. “And my goal is to sort of articulate that heritage in a new, refreshing way, to a younger consumer.” At Vuitton, he has achieved this through what he calls “a global view on diversity linked to the travel DNA of the brand.”

Virgil Abloh has identified modern affluent expectations and he has responded. But already, it’s apparent that he is not going to let Vuitton rest there. He has recently stated that he’s already thinking about what an even younger generation will want from brands like Vuitton. (New York Times). One thing’s for sure: we’ll be watching with interest.

Quantity of Eyeballs or Quality of Endorsement?

An insider’s view on influencer strategy.

By Clemmie Cuthbertson.

In the last two or three years, the influencer marketing sector has increased in size rapidly – and many believe it still has room to grow. According to the Association of National Advertisers, “75% of marketers currently work with influencers and of that, 43% plan to increase spending in the next year. Of those who are not currently using influencer marketing, 27% indicated they plan to do so in the next 12 months,” (The Drum, 2018). But all this intent does not necessarily make influencer marketing effective. Enthusiasm and effectiveness are not the same.

I am in the rare position of being both a social media influencer and an employee at an agency that delivers social solutions for its clients, often involving influencers. So I see the industry from two very different perspectives.

On the one hand, brands often contact me, asking where to send free samples of their latest low-calorie, additive-free alcopop or hottest make-up creation, in the hope that I’ll post images of their products to my profile. It means I’ve had to make a decision: will I take money for this and become an influencer for hire, or will I use and post only the products I genuinely think are good, refusing financial payment?

As an influencer with a day job – and admittedly, not quite a Kardashian-sized following – I chose the latter. But it’s not just influencers who need to weigh this decision. Brands who engage with influencers must factor it into their strategy, too.

Not all influencers are created equal
Influencers who take money to publicise a brand are, in essence, advertisements in human form. Consequently, social media etiquette demands that they append the tag ‘#Ad’ or ‘#Spon’ to any posts that feature a product they have been paid to publicise. For brands, this can be a great way to reach large and otherwise hard-to-reach audiences. But everyone knows it’s an ad – so although its reach might be great, the persuasive power of this kind of post will be minimal.
If, on the other hand, you see a brand or product featured on my profile, you’ll know I genuinely like it. This position has greater potential to persuade, but influencers like me rarely deliver huge audiences.

So for brands, there is a choice to make: quantity of eyeballs or quality of endorsement. And like so much in marketing, there is no right answer. Which one you choose for your brand (or what combination) depends, on what you want to achieve – or more specifically, where you are in the funnel.

Use the funnel
There are many variants of the sales funnel model, but the one we tend to use here at Keko London is the tried and tested AIDAR: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action and Retention.
If your focus is at the top of the funnel – if you are simply trying to alert your audience to the arrival of a new product or your brand’s entry into a new market, for example – then the paid influencer route might be a sensible option. You can think of it in the same way as buying a poster, an ad at the side of a football pitch or space for your logo on a Formula 1 car. It will get your brand seen, but that will be about it.

You also need to consider the phenomenon of fake followers. The purchase of fake followers (and fake likes and fake comments) is more widespread than you might think – especially among ‘macro-influencers’ with more than 100,000 followers.

This has come about because, as an influencer, the more followers you have, the more brands will pay you. There’s even a formula for how much you can charge, based on the size of your following.

If I were to charge, for example, I could earn £0.015 x my number of followers – currently around 18,000. Which means a brand could buy a post for £270.00.

Naturally, people who depend on these fees for a living want to earn as much as they can – so they buy followers to increase the price they can charge per post.

So how can you tell if an influencer’s following is authentic? Engagement levels are a good indicator. On average, Influencers should reach at least half their followers’ accounts every week. If someone has a million followers but they only reach 1,500 per week, then you know not to use them. Likes are worth looking at, too. Your influencers should aim to have between 6% and 10% of their followers like their photos, if not more.

As mentioned above, however, even engagement can now be faked. So if it’s mass awareness you’re looking for, the fact that not all those eyeballs are real is something you’ll have to accept. As Lord Leverhulme might have said: “I know that half the money I spend on macro-influencers is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Beyond the numbers game
Using macro-influencers for awareness is a numbers game – and only by crunching the numbers like this can you decide whether you’re doing the right thing or you’d be better off buying paid media and controlling the message yourself.

But that doesn’t mean there are no pitfalls further down the funnel. Here, you’re trying to really persuade people of something – be it the quality of your product or some specific capability or benefit. It’s an opportunity to have an influencer talk about your product in more detailed way – so make sure you arm them with all the information they need – not just the snippet a macro-influencer would post.

Measurement is possible, too. When working with a micro-influencer at this level, one way to track effectiveness is to make sure they put a call to action in their post, e.g. ‘Use code Clemmie10 for 10% off NutriBuddy’s latest health shake’. Then you can see how many people redeem.

Part of a bigger picture
In the longer term, think about your influencers (micro or macro) as storytellers, rather than just a conduit to consumers. Each one has a little part of your narrative to impart to their own audience. Many consumers today are more likely to look at social media than look at your website, so it makes sense to develop a base of influencers who can be relied on to deliver at whatever part of the funnel they are best suited for. Paid or not, influencers will work best for you when they are part of something bigger – and not just a one-off transaction.