Why Francis Bourgeois’ gig with Gucci shows brands should topple their fundamental pillars on social media

Gucci has spent decades working to make its brand synonymous with sexy, high-end and, often, out-of-reach glamour. It’s no wonder, then, that the beginnings of his now-successful relationship with The North Face, a purveyor of decidedly practical outerwear, turned a few heads around in 2020.

Fast forward to 2022, and the plot twists are still coming faster and faster. The face of the final straw is TikTok superstar trainspotter Francis Bourgeois. Part of a strategic push to tell stories of “quirky exploration”, the move garnered huge attention, both on social media and beyond.

For the uninitiated, Bourgeois is a 21-year-old Londoner who has built a following of millions by posting TikToks of his train-spotting adventures. In his most popular videos, he captures real-time reactions using a fisheye lens, revealing his love of seeing new or obscure train models, and expressing his delight when a conductor recognizes his presence on board. of the lane with a horn.

It might be tempting to dismiss its popularity as just another moment of obscurity from the generation that regularly breaks the internet with blinking obsessions and you’ll miss it with sea shanties, baked feta pasta dishes and girls from Alabama sorority. But there’s nothing random about that, given how saturated the content landscape is right now.

In the latest issue of our annual trends report think about the future, social cynicism was a driving trend that will continue to define how we interact with social media in 2022, with 43% of Gen Zers believing that social media algorithms are negatively impacting their media feed, and many believe our algorithmically driven feeds are homogenizing the content we see, pushing dozens of identical airbrushed faces into perfectly polished, pastel-colored interiors at the top of our feeds.

As a result, people are increasingly drawn to content that pokes fun at worn-out tropes or features creators showing off their weirder, more flawed, or otherwise more “authentic” selves.

In this context, the popularity of Bourgeois’ TikTok content – ​​which is highly idiosyncratic and decidedly enthusiastic – is anything but random, fitting perfectly into Gen Z’s desire to redefine what is cool and desiring content that feels different from everything else.

The power of subversion

Despite her global following (and her model-worthy cheekbones), Bourgeois isn’t an obvious influencer choice for a high-end fashion brand. In fact, in many ways, he’s everything Gucci isn’t: unpolished, “uncool” by historical measures, and careless about changing himself to fit those standards.

Some would say it’s off-brand. But that’s the whole point. Bourgeois actively subverts the stereotypes that the wider culture associates with Gucci, the wider luxury industry, and the luxury consumer. In fact, it’s just the latest in a series of equally off-the-wall ties for Gucci (last year included giant septuagenarian vegetable grower Gerald Stratford and bird-watching collective Flock Together).

It is this thinking that contradicts accepted marketing wisdom, yet it is embraced across industries. Call of Duty enlisted rappers Saweetie, Young Thug, AJ Tracey and others to diversify perceptions of the game’s destination.

Heinz has teamed up with British drag queen Tayce to speak to younger audiences who are more engaged in queer discourse. Even Martha Stewart, the epitome of Middle American style good taste, got involved, incorporating music written about her by rapper Yung Gravy into a campaign for her line of frozen foods.

Cascade or strategy?

You might think these examples are just one-time distractions, lasting for a minute before fading into oblivion. But I would say they actually represent smart, long-term thinking on a number of points.

The first is that it allows brands to bridge the gap between the worlds they inhabit and the world of influencers in a very natural way in those spaces. Brands are increasingly expected to understand and participate in the digital discourse, but remain firmly entrenched in the offline world when it comes to talent partnerships. These examples demonstrate the power of a brand that incorporates flexibility when it comes to navigating the fast-moving currents of digital culture.

Second, getting dirty in the social media space could very well turn out to be the antidote to the growing mistrust that surrounds elitist institutions. At a time when people feel frustrated with the societal systems that form the fabric of our culture, digital culture is a symbol of change – from the Gamestop saga as a response to an elitist financial market to the rise of NFTs as a return to elitism and nepotism in art world institutions. When it comes to Gucci, no industry is more historically controlled than luxury fashion. By creating a campaign with Francis as its muse, the brand demonstrates its desire to evolve with the times and open its doors to the cultural icons chosen by TikTok.

Cut through clutter

Third, and most importantly, choosing to build a strategy on “eccentric exploration” ensures one thing: breakthrough. And nothing is more important in an age where mindless scrolling is second nature. In this landscape, the strange and the dark prevail. Instant content, which can bring us back to the present moment, is essential for success on increasingly competitive social networks.

For Gucci, creating a transition while providing a platform for someone like Bourgeois is so much more integrity than simply signing another perfect celebrity, with absolutely nothing to say for themselves, to appear in a campaign.

Meanwhile, for The North Face, aligning its brand with outdoor activities that aren’t overtly sporty is also a smart move, given the much-talked-about disregard for football and other sports. general public, and the lack of interest in the Once sports hero reliable marketing figure. While the entire The North Face x Gucci collaboration seems to go against what each brand stands for, it adds valuable dimensions that have the potential to pay off big over time.

With that in mind, the key learning for brands across all industries is clear. If you want to stand out on social media, consider the ingrained stereotypes attached to your brand, product, industry, and audience, then do all you can to overthrow them. A flexible mark will be able to bend. Those who cannot prove too fragile to survive.

Lore Oxford is Global Head of Cultural Insights at We Are Social

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