Influencer Marketing: Making Luxury Relatable for Gen Zs


Tiktok Star Stephanie Hui shooting content at a Valentino event in Paris
Mega influencer Stephanie Hui shooting content for Valentino in Paris, March 2023. Photo: Instagram @stxph.h

Influencer marketing first came into prominence with the dawn of social media at the end of the 2010s, seeing small to medium sized brands collaborate with popular social media personalities to market their products and services to audiences they would otherwise not have access to. It was an inevitable sort of outcome for social media — marketing goes wherever popular mass media goes. If the goal of any marketing at all is to create the image of an ideal consumer so desirable that people want to become the consumer themselves, influencer marketing was designed to succeed immensely. No longer in dramatised, awkwardly scripted advertisements, the ideal consumer now existed in real life as the influencer themselves. Further, brands would now be able to target specific audience groups by cherry picking the kinds of influencers they wished to collaborate with, gaining access to their communities. 

Emma Chamberlain's cover for The Rolling Stone Magazine
Emma Chamberlain for Rolling Stone, dubbed “Internet’s Best Friend”. Photo: Rolling Stone

The influencer market is currently valued at over US$16 billion, having grown by more than 50 percent in the past five years as reported by McKinsey & Company. The power of influencer marketing to achieve tremendous reach with very little production labour can be evinced in bare bones social media campaigns such as Moncler’s 2020 #MonclerBubbleUp Tiktok challenge, where users had to simply dance to the tune of a leading rap song (“Bubble” by Ty Dolla $ign) while performing outfit swaps inspired by Moncler apparel, with target influencers being gifted actual Moncler products to set aspirational examples for their user communities. Tiktok reported that the challenge eventually exceeded existing international benchmarks, accumulating over 7 billion views with 2.6 million creators joining the challenge. Moncler themselves gained over 170,000 new followers over the campaign, a number enough to transform the common everyday user into a medium-sized influencer overnight. 

Video: Tiktok @moncler

New Media for A New Generation

It was not that long ago that luxury was exclusively focused on the aspirational, fronting elaborate movie-like campaigns with exorbitant celebrity endorsements. Think Natalie Portman for the iconic Miss Dior eau da parfum 2017 campaign — a 60 seconds roller coaster romance drama of cinematic proportions ending with a close up of Portman defiantly challenging the viewer: “And you? What would you do for love?”. Such extravagant use of star power is not lost on older generations and lovers of film, but fails to connect with an upcoming generation of luxury consumers, Gen Z. 

Video: Youtube @Dior

Opposed to the idealised and romanticised visions of aspirational luxury, Gen Z ground themselves in the more immediate and intimate realities of the authentic. Brands that succeed with Gen Z are often ones which stay rooted to personal stories and specific communities. Research insights from Ernst & Young highlight that Gen Z recognise voices of authority differently from previous generations, valuing community beliefs over traditional institutions of power such as hard news outlets or obscure academic discourse. 

The Advent of the Mega Influencer 

Perhaps most synonymous with Gen Z in media is mega influencer, Emma Chamberlain. Chamberlain had her early beginnings on YouTube at just 16 years of age, amassing over 12 million subscribers to date. Often appearing in front of the camera with a bare face and plain hoodie to boot, Chamberlain manages to cover a range of adult topics from fashion to philosophy with an eccentric yet self-effacing nonchalance to things that are often too serious to be fun. Apart from founding her own coffee company and securing an exclusive podcast deal with streaming platform, Spotify, Chamberlain has also found herself shooting content for the biggest events in fashion, securing her spot as a respected yet relatable voice of authority in the industry. 

Emma Chamberlain interviewing Jack Harlow at the 2022 Met Gala for Vogue. Video: Youtube @Vouge

Louis Vuitton was one of the first luxury houses to hone in on Chamberlain’s reach, dressing her up in bespoke LV looks for various red carpet appearances. Their investment proved fruitful, with her media impact at the 2022 Met Gala valued at around US$16 million according to data analytics group, Launchmetrics. Other notable collaborations with the House include attending their hybrid Women’s Spring/Summer 2021 show virtually from the comfort of her bed, broadcasting her attendance on a video which would later amass more than 3 million views on Youtube. Through Chamberlain’s slouchy yet well-informed bedside commentary, luxury suddenly becomes a whole lot more relatable — even casual. What was once aspirational and cinematic now becomes authentic and bite-sized, perfect for audience engagement as you idly scroll through social media feeds on the phone.

Video: Youtube @emmachamberlain

While Louis Vuitton and Chamberlain’s partnership seems to have come to its end, the luxury market has no wasted no time in securing the next Chamberlain brand deal for themselves. Lancôme signed the vlogger for a four-episode web series for YouTube titled, How Do You Say Beauty in French. The mini-series will feature Chamberlain visiting Lancôme offices around Paris, shot in her signature choppy, episodic style which allows the audience a more intimate look into the workings of the French beauty house interspersed with casual street shots of the city of love. The result: a friendlier reframing of a luxury brand as synonymous with all things French and chic, packaged specifically à la Chamberlain for a community of loyal Gen Z fans. Chamberlain will also feature in the House’s digital content all through 2024, representing first steps for the House in featuring fresh new faces catered to an emergent Gen Z audience. 

Video: Youtube @LancomeInternational

Capitalising on Creator Content and Data Loops 

Perhaps what luxury brands are hesitant to do is relinquish control over authorship of their core narratives. After all, is luxury truly ready to transition from the aspirational to the relatable? Choosing to invest in influencer marketing may help reach new Gen Z audiences and expand overall reach, but it also means putting the power to reshape the identity of the brand in the hands of the influencer. Whatever the influencer creates will inevitably mark the brand with their personal identity as well, something that may potentially turn off existing fans or worse, make the product look “cheap”. 

Mega influencer Bretman Rock starring in a Barbie themed Balmain campaign in January 2022.
Mega influencer Bretman Rock starring in a Barbie themed Balmain campaign in January 2022. Photo: Instagram @bretmanrock

It hence becomes key for luxury brands to choose who to collaborate with carefully. On the flip-side, allotting greater creative control to influencers with a knack or niche for creating can also give the brand a much needed refresh to capture a new generation of fans. The user data from social media platforms can in turn be harnessed to analyse the kinds of consumers drawn to or repelled by the brand’s identity, further streamlining the content creation process for brands and helping them choose more effectively the kind of influencers who will best fit their specific marketing goals.

Photo: Instagram @emmachamberlain

The emergent Gen-Z-led creator economy is ripe for players of all sizes to enter and reap rewards bountifully — a new community-driven marketing landscape where building relationships is just as important as increasing views. Luxury brands with their comparatively larger spending power have the unique opportunity to invest in the biggest creators today who will offer them the largest multiplier effects for their reach, establishing their presence in the consciousness of Gen Zs who are fast transitioning into becoming the core luxury target audience group of the near future. 

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