Influencer Marketing for Gen Z: Making Luxury Accessible and Engaging

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

In the realm of marketing, the rise of influencer marketing emerged hand in hand with the advent of social media during the late 2010s. This strategy saw a collaboration between small to medium-sized brands and popular social media figures to effectively promote their products and services to previously untapped audiences. This evolution was a natural progression as marketing always gravitates toward popular mass media platforms. If the ultimate aim of marketing is to shape an appealing image of an ideal consumer, influencer marketing was perfectly designed to excel in this endeavor. Rather than relying on exaggerated, scripted advertisements, the concept of the ideal consumer was now embodied by real-life influencers.

Emma Chamberlain's cover for The Rolling Stone Magazine

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

With this shift, brands gained the ability to target specific audience segments by strategically selecting influencers to collaborate with, thereby gaining access to their dedicated communities. Presently, the influencer market commands a valuation exceeding US$16 billion, marking a remarkable growth of more than 50 percent over the past five years, as reported by McKinsey & Company. The prowess of influencer marketing in achieving extensive reach with minimal production efforts is exemplified by campaigns like Moncler’s 2020 #MonclerBubbleUp TikTok challenge.

This initiative involved users dancing to a popular rap track (“Bubble” by Ty Dolla $ign) while showcasing outfit changes inspired by Moncler attire. Targeted influencers were provided with genuine Moncler products, serving as aspirational role models for their respective communities. TikTok reported that this challenge far surpassed international benchmarks, amassing over 7 billion views and engaging 2.6 million creators. Moncler itself gained more than 170,000 new followers during the campaign, a substantial figure that could instantly elevate an ordinary user into a medium-sized influencer.

@moncler @charlidamelio joins #MONCLERBUBBLEUP ♬ Bubble (feat Ty Dolla $ign) – 24hrs

Video: Tiktok @moncler

Embracing a New Era of Luxury Marketing

 

Video: Youtube @Dior

Not too long ago, luxury marketing predominantly focused on aspirational imagery, featuring extravagant cinematic campaigns alongside celebrity endorsements that came with a hefty price tag. Recall Natalie Portman’s iconic 2017 Miss Dior eau de parfum campaign—a 60-second whirlwind romance drama culminating in a close-up of Portman, provocatively challenging the viewer: “And you? What would you do for love?” While such grand displays of star power resonate with older generations and film enthusiasts, they fall short of captivating the emerging generation of luxury consumers—Generation Z. Instead of aspiring to lofty and romanticized versions of luxury, Gen Z identifies with the immediate and authentic.

Brands that effectively resonate with Gen Z are those that anchor themselves in personal narratives and distinct communities. Insights from Ernst & Young underscore that Gen Z perceives authority figures differently from previous generations, placing greater value on community beliefs over conventional sources of power like established news outlets or academic discourse.

The Emergence of Mega Influencers

An embodiment of Gen Z in the media realm is mega influencer Emma Chamberlain. Chamberlain gained prominence on YouTube at a mere 16 years old and has since accumulated over 12 million subscribers. Often appearing on screen with minimal makeup and casual attire, Chamberlain traverses a diverse array of topics, from fashion to philosophy, all with an eccentric yet modest flair. Beyond her online persona, Chamberlain founded her own coffee brand, secured an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify, and even participated in major fashion events, establishing herself as a respected yet relatable industry voice.

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

Luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton recognized Chamberlain’s influence, dressing her in custom LV ensembles for various red carpet occasions. This partnership yielded impressive results, with Chamberlain’s impact at the 2022 Met Gala estimated at around US$16 million by data analytics group Launchmetrics. Additional collaborations with Louis Vuitton involved Chamberlain attending the Women’s Spring/Summer 2021 show virtually from her bed, garnering over 3 million views on YouTube.

Through Chamberlain’s casual yet well-informed commentary, luxury became more approachable and down-to-earth, appealing even to the casual observer scrolling through social media feeds. Although Chamberlain’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton eventually concluded, the luxury market promptly secured her for a four-episode YouTube web series titled “How Do You Say Beauty in French,” sponsored by Lancôme. In this series, Chamberlain offers intimate insights into Lancôme’s offices in Paris while infusing her signature episodic style, providing Gen Z fans with an accessible glimpse into the world of French beauty.

Video: Youtube @emmachamberlain

Video: Youtube @LancomeInternational

Navigating the Creator Economy

Luxury brands may find it challenging to relinquish control over the creation of their brand narratives. After all, can luxury seamlessly transition from aspiration to relatability? Opting for influencer marketing opens the door to reaching new Gen Z audiences and expanding overall reach, but it also means entrusting influencers with the power to reshape the brand’s identity. Whatever influencers create inevitably intertwines the brand with their personal identity, a move that might alienate existing fans or even risk tarnishing the brand’s image. Consequently, luxury brands must meticulously select collaboration partners.

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

On the flip side, granting more creative autonomy to influencers with a knack for content creation could breathe new life into a brand and attract a fresh wave of fans. Insights drawn from social media platforms can help brands analyze which consumers are drawn to or repelled by their identity, streamlining content creation and aiding in selecting influencers aligned with their marketing objectives.

The emerging Gen Z-driven creator economy provides an opportunity for entities of all sizes to participate and reap rewards. In this landscape, relationship-building is as crucial as viewer engagement. With their substantial resources, luxury brands are uniquely positioned to invest in leading creators, amplifying their reach and embedding themselves in the consciousness of Gen Z—the imminent core luxury audience.

emma chamberlain for chamberlain coffee

Photo: Instagram @emmachamberlain

In conclusion, influencer marketing stands as a formidable tool to bridge the gap between luxury brands and Gen Z consumers. By fostering connections with relatable influencers and embracing authenticity, luxury brands can create resonance within the younger demographic, securing their place in the evolving landscape of marketing.