Gucci, a brand of the elite, the ‘upper class’ so to speak. Born in 1881 as the brain child of Guccio Gucci, and firmly established in the 1920’s, the brand has grown phenomenally; from selling leather bags to horsemen in 1921, to being globally recognised as one of the leading designers in the fashion and beauty industry. From stunting the widely recognised handbag with the bamboo handle, to flaunting the green and red stripe that is synonymous with Gucci; the brand has made a serious impression in the million dollar industry. The company is worth a staggering $12 billion as of last year, and made a considerable $4.5 billion in sales (2016).
One of the brand’s previous creative directors Tom Ford, (1994-2004) was responsible for many of the mass marketing campaigns that Gucci became known for. Ford’s style was that, sex sells, which he proved in his time as creative director after taking gucci from the brink of bankruptcy in 1994, and transforming it into a $10 billion dollar company by the time he left in 2004. The following image captured by Mario Testino, starring Carmen Kass as the female model, was displayed in Vogue’s February issue (2003). The photo received a lot of criticism for its degrading notions and overt sexualisation.
This form of advertising, (‘sex sells’) has been the way of many luxury brands for years, and has proven to work due to billion dollars worth of sales – for example, Gucci’s sales increased 90% between 1995-96 whilst Ford was creative director and generating hyper-sexualised advertisements. However, Gucci has seen a sudden shift in it’s marketing approach, moving away from sexualisation, and instead delving into the current popular culture phenomenon that is memes…
Alessandro Michele was appointed creative director of Gucci in January 2015, and has just this month, released his meme-inspired campaign titled “#TFWGucci”, (“#That Feeling When Gucci”). Michele has been fascinated by internet culture for some time and wanted to integrate it into his project at Gucci as it created a ‘relatable scenario’ for audiences that is centred around the watches.
This complete transformation of the medium in which Gucci is exploring in it’s marketing approach displays Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism ‘the medium is the message’. The idea that the impact of the medium is more significant than the content in which it carries. This can be seen in “#TFWGucci” as it explores a new medium completely different from that of previous Tom Ford-like campaigns which use sex to sell their products. Now, the social phenomenon of memes is being used to reach a wider audience because they are a medium that has the ability to manipulate the social environment due to their viral nature. The timepieces cost anything up from AUD$1000, and Michele’s memes don’t quite reflect it’s luxurious price; but are instead attempting to reach new audiences by tapping into this popular medium.
Therefore, Gucci has taken advantage of this characteristic of memes, (a viral medium) to generate social buzz around their products in order to gain a competitive edge, social recognition, and reign in more sales as to remain a significant brand within the fashion industry.