Why TikTok sleuths are luxury’s most valuable asset

sector - fashion
sector - luxury
type - opinion
Leaning into pop culture and relinquishing brand control can help luxury companies transform trending topics into viral marketing moments

Distrustful of corporate media and traditional advertising campaigns, younger consumers are becoming online armchair sleuths, launching investigations into the authenticity of celebrity and influencer content.

Indeed, the practice of separating reality from fiction is becoming an integral part of Gen Z internet culture. Seizing the opportunity for publicity in this vein, luxury companies are creating playfully deceptive campaigns that are designed to fuel such online debate. In the era of what’s been dubbed cringecore marketing – a phrase coined by fashion critic Taylore Scarabelli – encompasses the memetic ways fashion brands design for virality online, the practice of deciphering advertising ruses has become the marketing experience itself.

Driving this movement is self-promotional mastermind Kanye West. Capitalising on his recent divorce from reality tv icon Kim Kardashian, the musician is transforming his love life into a marketing spectacle. On a recent date with actress Julia Fox, West gifted her the entire Diesel Spring 2022 collection. Fox, in turn, shared the experience on Instagram and posed for an exclusive article with Interview magazine. A fortnight later, Launchmetrics estimated that Fox and West generated £465,000 ($629,000, €550,300) in media impact value (MIV) across 181 media placements, proving that the stunt was incredibly beneficial to Diesel.

Taking notice of the increased online engagement, other brands are pioneering their own cringecore strategies. As part of Prada’s Christmas activation, the company gifted influencers – including TikTok darling Devon Lee Carlson – branded tree ornaments. During an unboxing video, Carlson ‘accidentally’ shattered a bauble on camera, laughing it off good-naturedly. After receiving almost half a million views, similar videos by other prominent TikTokers such as Bryanboy and Xenia Adonts began to emerge.

Yet, this ‘adorkable’ smashing of ornaments was questioned by journalist Danae Mercer, who maintains that the brand encouraged influencers to deliberately destroy their gifted goods to win audience views and interactions. Prompted or not, the smashed ornaments sparked the scepticism of Generation Z’s armchair sleuths, keeping Prada front of mind for TikTok users.

Published by:

8 February 2022

Author: Gursharan Panesar and Lavinia Fasano

Image: Gucci and The North Face with Highsnobiety, Photography by Ronan Gallagher


Interview magazine. Photography by Kevin Leyva

As pop culture pundits become stars in their own right, luxury brands have the opportunity to use a new generation of earnest influencers. The rise of TikTok and its eclectic algorithm has allowed more human and heartfelt creators to gain attention. One such influencer is Francis Bourgeois, a 20-year-old British trainspotter whose endearing videos have earned him a cult following. Cementing his status as an unlikely style icon, Italian luxury house Gucci recently featured Bourgeois in a campaign for its collaboration with The North Face.

Bourgeois – whose real name is Luke Nicholson – previously had the authenticity of his gawky trainspotting persona and passion questioned when old images of the creator decked out in a standard Gen Z garb surfaced online. The harsh accusations faced by Bourgeois highlight the ethical perils of the vigilante culture on which cringecore marketing depends. It might be that this very ambiguity is what captured the attention of Gucci when it was seeking a protagonist who symbolised the intersection of authenticity, luxury and streetwear.

For companies wanting to engage with cringecore marketing, it’s important to understand that brand perception is ultimately uncontrollable. By handing the reins to niche communities and digital commentators, businesses can insert themselves into the cultural conversation. But they must be prepared for any outcome, recognising how the loss of a carefully choreographed narrative can fuel online conversation and heighten consumer engagementIt’s here that luxury brands can successfully contribute to the digital zeitgeist.

Gursharan Panesar is a junior futures analyst at The Future Laboratory

‘Having Bourgeois in [the Gucci campaign] is a great example of how the internet’s cultural gatekeepers can cross over into the fashion and luxury landscapes in engaging and authentic ways’
David Fischer, founder and CEO, Highsnobiety

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