A Rebuttal: Is Instagram Killing The Luxury Dream?

Earlier this week, we came across an article which questioned the impact that Instagram has and, given its growing popularity, is likely to continue to have on the luxury industry.

Franck Jehanne of Kalory Agency believes that the amateur concept underlying this popular app is slowly but surely diminishing the aspiration value which all luxury brands are fundamentally built on. Essentially: what is Louis Vuitton without its unmistakable craftsmanship; what is Chanel without the irresistible shine of the metal CC logo; and what is Tiffany’s without the flawless gleam of its impeccably cut diamond?

Mr. Jehanne questions: “Will poor photography posted on social media channels damage the image of luxury and fashion brands?”

While we do appreciate that this is a very interesting and valid perspective, we do not believe that the argument is as clear and sharp as a Giles S/S 2012 laser-cut leather dress.

Luxury brands are what those studying Marketing 101 will call an Aspiration Brand, and big part of what is at the core of aspiration brand is undeniably that ‘unattainable’ factor. The most common tool used display this status is one that unfortunately a lot of us know far too well: the price tag. Luxury fashion houses like Hermès ooze aspiration out of every single thread in their classic twilly.

It would be all too simple though if this was all that was required to establish and maintain a brand, so rich with heritage and substance, that it still qualifies as luxurious in today’s saturated market.

Think about it – it’s no longer that easy for a Fendi or a Gucci to stay prominent against new names in luxury such as Anya Hindmarch or even Jimmy Choo, whose heritage only really spans about 20 years.

Younger brands such as Alexander Wang have been able to break through the luxury barrier by establishing a strong brand presence and rapport with the new generation of affluent shoppers. Established brands like Louis Vuitton have also not succumbed to defeat in this new race by investing largely into re-introducing their important heritage to the next wave of stylists, fashionistas and shoppers all-around. We believe that for a luxury brand to survive in today’s market, there needs to be a fine balance between aspiration and familiarity.

It’s no new concept that building a relationship with your consumers is an important part of preserving a brand because without good rapport, you run a high risk of alienating clientele. Where social media tools such as Instagram become increasingly important in this conversation is that the new generation of affluent shoppers (read: the people who will buy your Birkin or your 140mm patent Pigalle) is most in tune via Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr/Instagram.

On top of this, this new generation of potential customers are no longer obsessed with the idea of perfection. The thought of a vintage Louis Vuitton Speedy, aged tan leather and all, is almost more appealing than one fresh from the store. Seeing an up close and personal photograph of a Chanel 2.55 bag that is soft and worn with age, highlighted with the Earlybird filter on Instagram, does not deter the want to go out and buy one (if only it were that easy), but encourages it. Why?

Similar to the reasons why we don’t want to date boring people – we simply do not want to be associated with a boring brand! One that may be great, mighty and shiny – but all the while dull, lifeless and without character.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the rise of social media in the past couple of years, specifically in relation to luxury brands, is how the perception of ‘what luxury is’ has changed. This problem translates to how each brand can still maintain an adequate level of control over their brand image so that they remain within the ‘luxury’ realm.

The increasing influential power of street style photographers (Tommy Ton) and fashion bloggers (BryanBoy, Susie Bubble, Blonde Salad), as a simple example, has opened up a new avenue for us mere mortals to gain access to luxury and high-end brands. In effect, they are personifying what brands have been doing for years through artificial mediums such as a carefully constructed advertising campaign!

Though we can thoroughly empathise the concerns and risks that this brings brand strategists across the luxury and fashion industries, over the past couple of years we have also observed how some fashion houses have embraced this new medium of communication. In some specific instances, we have observed brands successfully control how social media affects their brand image and, in harnessing this new medium to their advantage, have in fact benefited the public image of their brand.

Two examples of success stories are Burberry and Oscar De La Renta, though both employ slightly difference approaches.
From their initial foray into using the power of the social media, which we observed in Burberry’s now infamous ‘Art of the Trench’ campaign, the iconic British fashion house has continued to lead the luxury industry pack in terms of digital innovation in communications. Coupled with an active Twitter account (especially during Fashion Weeks, where Creative Director Christopher Bailey takes the reign and casually uploads photos of his process for his followers) and a refurbished group of young British personalities in their print campaigns, Burberry’s sales have consistently increased across all their operating segments over the past couple of years!

Unless you have been living under a rock the past couple of years, you would also be familiar with Erica Bearman, or her now famous pseudonym: OscarPRGirl. OscarPRGirl can be found across Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest, allowing her followers to take a peek inside the world of Oscar De La Renta. Erica’s photos are by no means professional nor polished however in embracing these mediums, OscarPRGirl has given the obscure ODLR fashion house a new dimension in familiarity and character that has opened the door for new clientele.

When we saw the article by Frank Jehanne on this topic, we wanted to take the opportunity to expand on what we feel is also a very interesting, timely and debatable conversation. While we can agree to some aspects of Mr. Jehanne’s argument, we also believe that given the complexity that today’s technology environment has introduced into branding strategy, there is definately a place for both professional and ‘public’/’social’ visual content in a luxury brand’s overall communications plan.

What do you think?


By Heidy Suwidji – a financial accounting analyst and all-round fashionholic, you can catch her keeping one keen eye on the latest fashionably corporate news, and the other on her favourite online shopping sites. Follow her on Twitter at @lolaswij.

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