Louis Vuitton’s latest luggage campaign was hard to miss.
Released on the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Saturday, Annie Leibovitz’s close-up image of soccer superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi locked in a friendly game of chess exploded on social media. As of Monday, Louis Vuitton’s tweet of the image (titled “Victory is a state of mind”) had been reposted more than 55,000 times. On Instagram, both Ronaldo and Messi shared the image, racking up a total of 65 million likes, the most in the platform’s history.
On one level, the success of the campaign came down to numbers. Ronaldo has the most popular Instagram account with over 500 million followers. And only a brand with the marketing budgets of Louis Vuitton could offer the shock and awe of showcasing not one, but two of the world’s best footballers in a single image.
But the image also had a shrewd emotional resonance. Both Ronaldo and Messi have said they plan to retire from football soon and the 2022 World Cup will likely be their last. Imagining longtime competitors taking their rivalry into the more contemplative and mature arena of chess clearly struck a chord.
Displays of sportsmanship and mutual admiration tend to provoke strong reactions: tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have long garnered rave coverage for their affectionate exchanges on and off the court, culminating in a very touching (and very shared) earlier this year as Federer prepared to retire from the sport. It’s the kind of moment brands like Louis Vuitton dream of being associated with – so why not create one?
Chess fans also noticed that the campaign progress lined up with an iconic 2017 showdown between chess champions Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, adding a layer of intrigue and a topic of online buzz. .
Louis Vuitton’s campaign deftly managed to tap into the growing interest in football ahead of the World Cup while avoiding the controversies associated with the event, from Qatar’s callous treatment of LGBTQ minorities to its exploitation of migrant workers (including thousands are estimated to have died during the construction of World Cup stadiums). Sportswear giants like Nike, Adidas and Puma (who together dress more than 80% of the teams), beverage partners like Budweiser and Louis Vuitton itself (who has produced a special trophy for the event since 2010) were unwilling to withdraw their participation in the highly watched tournament.
Louis Vuitton is renewing its partnership of trophy cases this year, as well as the sale of a capsule collection on the theme of the World Cup. But he hasn’t posted any of those activations on Instagram – and he won’t need to if the bad buzz about Qatar doesn’t die down. With the chess photo and the resulting media coverage, the brand has already garnered an estimated $13.5 million online buzz in just 48 hours, Launchmetrics said. That’s more than twice as much as Adidas’ recent tie-up with K-Pop supergroup Blackpink, and about 40% more than the initial buzz surrounding Versace’s “Jungle dress” revival with Jennifer Lopez in 2019. according to data from the consulting firm.
A Louis Vuitton spokesman declined to comment on the controversy surrounding this year’s World Cup, or say how much sponsorship of Messi and Ronaldo cost.
Louis Vuitton’s football marketing stunt comes during a pivotal holiday shopping season as luxury brands seek to maintain post-pandemic momentum amid growing macroeconomic headwinds. After jumping 22% this year, consultancy Bain & Co. expects growth in the luxury industry to slow to between 3 and 8% next year thanks to inflation, higher growth weaker economy and tough coronavirus measures that are hampering China’s retail recovery.
In an uncertain economy, Louis Vuitton appears to be investing more than ever to bolster its widespread appeal, showing well-known ambassadors timeless pieces unlikely to go out of style. Annie Leibovitz’s campaign is an aesthetic callback to the “Core Values” series she shot for the brand from 2007 through the 2010s, which featured Louis Vuitton’s monogrammed luggage alongside distinguished faces like the man Russian statesman Mikhail Gorbachev, filmmakers Francis Ford and Sophia Coppola and football greats Pelé, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. These ads aimed to rebalance perception in favor of the brand’s historic territory of travel and craftsmanship after penetrating into pop culture and fashion under designer Marc Jacobs.
“This type of advertising is not about the specific product but about the look of the brand,” said London-based luxury consultant Mario Ortelli, who called the new campaign a “masterstroke”. “It’s about appealing to a very broad consumer base with a message about heritage and exclusivity that is relevant to everyone,” he added.
The blockbuster luggage placement could help defend Vuitton’s marketing territory as a travel brand after key rival, Kering-owned Gucci, sought to promote its own monogrammed sports bags and suitcases in a marketing campaign major led by Ryan Gosling.
The Messi and Ronaldo photoshoot also raises awareness of Louis Vuitton’s Damier Azur checkerboard pattern, a successful signature that the brand has repeatedly lobbied for brand protection with mixed results. While competitors have claimed the checkerboard pattern is too common to qualify for trademark status, Vuitton says its long history of investing in marketing the pattern makes it a brand signature worthy of protection. In October, the European Union Intellectual Property Office said Louis Vuitton had failed to prove “distinctive character acquired through use” across the EU.
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