The Power Of Subversion

Francis Bourgeois is the internet sensation taking the world by storm. Known for his eccentrically wholesome train spotting content, it came as a surprise to many that he was the choice for Gucci x North Face’s latest campaign. High-end designer brands such as Gucci have invested years in developing their exclusive, luxurious and edgy repertoire, which is what makes this move so surprising.

But Gucci aren’t the first to shake up their campaigns by aligning with unlikely partners. In 2021 we saw food brand staple Heinz Baked Beans partner with Drag Race superstar Tayce. Whilst war game, Call of Duty, partnered up with a number of popular rappers. 

These partnerships may seem like an unlikely match with an apparent disconnect between the and these brand’s traditional audiences. So why are such firms steering away from the type of marketing they are usually associated with?

Gen Z are the original digital natives. It therefore comes as no surprise that they tend to be more savvy when it comes to social media. A recent trend report stated that nearly half of Gen Z held negative attitudes towards social media algorithms, claiming that they prioritize inauthentic and repetitive content. Additionally, memes and comedy have become key means by which Gen Z communicate with each other. Young people are drawn to the imperfect, to content that is weird, wacky and more akin to their real selves and experiences. 

So as Gen Z redefine what’s cool, brands are subverting their traditional approaches in order to appeal to them. On TikTok, content creators are called out for ‘gatekeeping’, with consumers demanding accessible communities. The exclusive nature of the luxury industry is hard to square with the values of Gen Z. As such, these brands’ campaigns need to subvert the stereotypes that define Gen Z’s perception of them. But it’s not an easy trick to pull off. On the one hand, the playful approach adopted by Gucci may appeal to young people’s need for humour and relatability. But on the other, will Gen Z’s savvy selves it as nothing more than a tokenistic effort at authenticity. 

CRTZ, is a prime example of a new generation streetwear brand that has created a lot of buzz amongst the Gen Z-ers. In January they held their ‘BOLO Exchange’, with hundreds of young people flocking to London to exchange their designer jackets for a CRTZ one. These individuals effectively determined the value of the brand with over £16,000 worth of jackets exchanged. In line with Gen Z’s demand for authenticity, they’ve subverted typical marketing methods used by streetwear brands, such as gifting or social media advertising. Playing into their distrust for influencers, CRTZ is now only repped on social media by legitimate consumers and fans. 

It’s clear that big brands are shaking up their marketing in order to reach the next generation of consumers. Tapping into new audiences by using unexpected talents, poking fun at themselves or using a more nuanced approach overall.

Subverting traditions can be a way to authentically engage with a generation that is anything but traditional. 

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