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Crisis and Fashion Content Strategy
A publication of It's A Working Title LLC
This weekly publication focuses on how business and economics trends, technology, and the drive for sustainability impact the global luxury, fashion, and experience economy industries. Prepared by the staff of content strategy agency and think tank It’s a Working Title LLC, each week’s issue provides a summary of recent trends across the globe and a leader that conducts a deeper dive into content strategy.
Leader - Crisis and Fashion Content Strategy
Fashion brands are no stranger to controversy. Indeed, many people would argue the industry thrives on it.
Sometimes, a crisis comes along that a brand cannot predict or for which it is impossible to plan, such as the double crisis in which luxury brand Balenciaga currently finds itself. Most brand PR and communications teams should be armed with a crisis communications toolkit to handle public relations situations, usually via a series of well-timed statements from company leadership.
However, having a crisis communications toolkit and implementing it consistently across channels are two entirely different things. This is why fashion and luxury brands should consider building a crisis communications content strategy to prepare the what, how, and when of brand messaging across platforms to address a crisis situation.
Balenciaga in Crisis
The ongoing Balenciaga controversy is a content strategy case study waiting to be written. The entire situation is either a complete failure of content strategy oversight, if no one in Balenciaga’s marketing leadership team closely reviewed the two ads in question before they went out, or an example of terrible, even malevolent, judgment if the two ads were fully approved. Either way, it is a failure of either structure or agency, even if unintentionally.
For those who are not fully up-to-date on the scandal, Balenciaga is under fire for two separate ad campaigns. The first is the Balenciaga Gift Shop campaign, released on November 16, which featured children next to teddy-bear-shaped bags with harnesses and other BDSM-like accessories on set, shot by photographer Gabriele Galimberti. The second ad is the Garde-Robe campaign, released on November 21, which included pages from the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in U.S. versus Williams as well as a book with work from controversial Belgian painter Michael Borremans.
If the actual content of the ads weren’t horrible enough, Balenciaga has added fuel to the fire for the ensuing crisis with its slow, at best defensive response to the situation. First, there is the matter of the timing of content—or the lack thereof—in addressing the situation; and, second, there is the response or crisis content, if you will, between the brand statements in Demna’s Instagram posts and the punting of blame to either the photographers or the production company with media statements surrounding the early filing of the $25-million lawsuit against the production company that developed the Garde-Robe campaign, North Six Inc, and set designer Nicholas Des Jardins.
After the holiday Balenciaga Gift Shop campaign was released, the backlash to #CancelBalenciaga was swift upon wide circulation of the images between social media and news outlets like Fox News. The brand pulled the images and eventually released a statement apologizing for any “offence [the] holiday campaign may have caused.”
Once the Garde-Robe campaign had spread, Balenciaga also pulled those images and issued a statement on Instagram several days into the controversy that included the language: “We are reinforcing the structures around our creative processes and validation steps. We want to ensure that new controls mark a pivot and will prevent this from happening again.” Again, note the lack of ownership or specificity in language with no attribution for the “we” within the brand team. Who is responsible—or being held accountable—for a sheer lack of proper content oversight within the Balenciaga organization remains to be seen. The fact that long-time Balenciaga brand ambassador and mother Kim Kardashian is “reevaluating [her] relationship with the brand” shows the seriousness of the situation, which the public is not letting the brand brush off.
Crisis Content Strategy
Content matters. Language matters. This entire situation shows not only the moral fine line that creative brands often walk between art and criminality; but also, it reveals the extent to which brands simply fail to manage and oversee their content across channels. The pressures of an omni-channel content ecosystem force brands into overly siloed teams with a fundamental lack of standardized, centralized processes, workflow, and oversight needed to manage enterprise content at scale. This is not to say that a basic content governance model would have prevented the Balenciaga situation from happening; but, it at least would have been a fail safe mechanism onto which to fall back when figuring out what happened and who approved what.
And then when it came to responding to the growing controversy, if Balenciaga had a content strategy behind its crisis communications, then it would have prevented delays in issuing a public apology and may have been in a better position to explain their point of view and control the conversation. As it was, the lateness of their reply combined with the swiftness of the lawsuit have led many critics to deepen the case against Balenciaga, assuming they are trying to deflect blame on third-party contractors rather than own up to it themselves.
Having a crisis communications content strategy is vital to help brands figure out in advance what types of content are needed in a crisis, whether a series of senior leadership statements, press releases, social media posts, media interviews, or likely a combination of all of those; but also, it helps set a plan for the timing of this content, appropriate authorship and content oversight, and response mechanisms across channels to address feedback and keep lines of communication under control.
Look, in the end, perhaps nothing could have saved Balenciaga in this situation. But, being better prepared could have at least made it seem like they grasped the severity of the situation and fully condemned any situation that could put a child at risk.
H&M announces lay-offs in what could be the first of many such announcements in Europe. So far, large scale lay-offs have been heavily localized in large tech companies, yet on November 30 H&M announced plans to cut 1,500 jobs, principally in Sweden. The retailer indicated that the move is part of a package of measures launched in September to generate 2 million Swedish crowns (€180 million) per year in cost savings to address slowing demand as consumers cut discretionary spending due to the rising price of essentials. In its latest economic forecasts, the IMF expects that GDP growth in the Eurozone will reach only 0.5 percent in 2023, yet the European Commission expects the bloc will tip into recession. Though inflation numbers released on November 30 show that Eurozone inflation is stabilizing, headline inflation is still running very hot at 10 percent this year while core inflation (which removes food and energy prices) is at 5 percent, which is 2 percentage points above the European Central Bank’s target range. These poor macroeconomic numbers raise the specter that more retailers will look to cut costs, including payrolls, in the first half of 2023.
In the U.S. online holiday spending set new records on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but looks fairly weak when inflation is considered. Adobe Analytics reports that online spending rose 2.3 percent over 2022 levels on Black Friday to hit $9.6 billion. This was considerably higher than economists’ expectations for just a 1 percent increase as poor weather in much of the country may have delayed shoppers’ plans to shop in-store. Around half of online shoppers made their purchases from their phones. Cyber Monday sales were expected to hit $11.2 billion, growing more than 5 percent year-over-year. These nominal growth rates are historically large, yet look much less robust in the context of the IMF’s forecast that U.S. inflation will average 8.1 percent this year while December inflation will hit 6.4 percent.
The demographic transition is already in full swing for the luxury industry. Even though most of the world is aging and the share of the working-age population peaked (perhaps for all time) in 2012, the luxury industry covets the youngest demographic with purchasing power. The industry’s product diversification into streetwear, its adventures into gaming and metaverse environments, and its more accessible-seeming marketing are all geared towards young Millennial and Gen-Z consumers. And there are signs that shoppers in this demographic are also reaching out to luxury. A study by Bain & Co. found that they constitute around 45 percent of luxury shoppers in North America while BCG and Tencent found that over 60 percent of China’s luxury consumers are under age 35. Luxury’s efforts to deliberately court this demographic is part of the explanation. The other is the availability and growth of resale platforms such as Vestiaire Collective and TheRealReal, which draw in young consumers with an interest in supporting sustainable fashion as well as finding unique pieces.
Luxury brands continue to issue tradable NFT collections despite the global sell-off in digital assets. This periodical documents a new NFT issue nearly each week. This year alone has seen high profile launches by Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany & Co., Moncler, and Burberry among many others. Fashion and luxury lean much more heavily into NFTs than other sectors with 19 issues since 2020, a number that is multiples higher than most industries (see chart below). Other retail-oriented sectors have barely even started in the NFT game. Though prices and trading volumes for NFTs have declined this year, like most other digital assets, the interest of the luxury industry does not seem to be cooling.
Vestiaire Collective bans fast fashion in the first of several moves to promote sustainability. In the wake of last week’s COP27 meetings, Vestiaire has announced that fast fashion brands will be banned from listing on its resale platform, beginning this month. This decision is part of a three-year program which will see Vestiaire create a set of selection criteria that range from low product quality, poor working conditions, and carbon emissions at each state of the value chain. Only brands that satisfy the criteria will be permitted to list products on the site.
Klarna expanded its recently launched Creator Platform to the UK. Initially launched in the U.S. this October, the platform connects retailers with marketing influencers and monitors performance statistics. The scale of opportunity is large for retailers and influencers as Klarna has a stable of over 450,000 retail partners. The UK market is a good match for Klarna’s influencer program as over 40 percent of British shoppers who buy online do so directly from influencers’ own social media accounts, a number which rises to 55 percent for Gen-Z consumers.