Kanye, Gap, Balenciaga and the Age of Brand 2.0
And you thought it was about just a hoodie.
Fuck that Kanye Gap hoodie.
I don’t want to look like some 17-year old hypebeast reseller who sizes up two times to convey this “I-want-to-be-different-just-like-my-friends” attitude. And over my dead body am I going to spend £80 (roughly $110) and give away all my personal data including my complete size portfolio and contact info they’re requesting for me to get there.
Fuck. I just bought that $110 (+ $16 shipping) cropped, black, unisex hoodie that ships in 4-8 weeks in my regular size M after seeing Ye’s 2 minute and 39 second music video for his single Heaven and Hell which features a world where every business professional, outlaw, and stroller baby wears that same standard black heavyweight hoodie. Product placement supreme. After all, the video that broadcasted to millions on ESPN earlier this week doubled as the debut advertisement for Ye’s Yeezy x Gap line.
Now, the hoodie was purchased because a) I’m easy to market to, and b) because of a carefully orchestrated sequence of events that predated the final reveal of the product (something to do with Balenciaga, Julia Fox, and Ye’s upcoming Netflix doc) made me believe that I needed to own this physical timestamp of pop culture that signifies, “I was there, and understand that this plain overpriced hoodie isn’t just a plain overpriced hoodie because I’ve built a cheesy personality around being more in-the-know than my peers.” See point a).
When Yeezy x Gap launched its first ever product, the Round jacket, Gap saw a 75% uptick in new customers. And here you still think I’m overanalyzing the launch of a simple product. But let me remind you that this hoodie and jacket are at the core of Yeezy x Gap growth strategy which is projected to generate $1 billion in annual sales at its five-year point. (For context, Gap’s own brand brought in $4.6 billion in revenue in 2019).
In reality, its success is built on a highly detailed marketing set-up where cross-discipline distribution, content teasing, and a carefully curated list of people and brand partners that are associated with it all is executed so well that it perfectly leverages the new Age of Brand we’ve headed into. Ye and Yeezy, and their association with Gap and Balenciaga, will continue to dictate this new chapter across talent, mass fashion, and luxury, respectively. And they’ll do it together while the rest of our industry laughs it all off and then plays catch up.
The Age of Brand
But don’t take it from me. To present you a 101 on how we became so brand obsessed, I’m passing the mic to serial-entrepreneur, professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, and like Ye, the man the internet loves to hate but still pays attention to, Scott Galloway. In his 2020 New York Times bestselling book, ‘Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity’ he writes:
“From the end of WWII until the introduction of Google, the gangster algorithm for shareholder value was simple — create an average, mass produced product and infuse it with intangible associations.
You then reinforce those associations through cheap broadcast media, which occupies average Americans for five hours a day. [In this Age of Brand], the emotion injected into mediocre product was the algorithm for creating hundreds of billions in stakeholder value. [Coca-Cola’s]
I’d like to teach the world to sing
translated to irrational margins based on an emotional response to inanimate products.
Brand was a new kind of pixie dust that offered an exceptional lifestyle to average business people. Believers in the advertising industrial complex would be blessed with sacrosanct margins despite products void of differentiation.”
Brands In Limbo
The rise of smarter social media platforms over the past decade allowed brands to increase the frequency of touchpoints they had with current and potential consumers. While brands continued to broadcast in similar ways they’ve always done through traditional media, the more digitally fluent audiences they were aiming to address were far more advanced, and less receptive.
So when Louis Vuitton, Mercedes, and Fuji Water started showing up on our feeds next to our best friends, the influencers we follow, and our new favorite local restaurant owner, mass brands started experimenting, acting like your “I’m-down-with-the-kids” relatives. And we saw right through it. Them being on our turf, we started holding brands and their teams of collaborators and ambassadors accountable, we started calling them out for a myriad of misdoings now that they’d given us the green light to peek behind the curtain.
It scared many brands straight back into the one-sided broadcast, broadcast, broadcast space they started off in, leaving much of the current brand landscape feeling dull and homogenous. Their sporadic attempts to venture into the TikTok’s or Roblox’s of this world now feel more like a cheap facelift than a long-term commitment to investing in a relationship with us.
And that’s where we’re today. Brands are in a limbo between knowing how to talk and sell, but not how to properly connect across new media that’s always on, keeping a safe distance from anything that could give them a bad rep. It’s the wrong approach given the fact that to be successful in the future brand
— beyond simply selling products
— needs to be put front and centre once again.
According to Culture, Culture, Culture
— a 2020 white paper by Highsnobiety and Boston Consulting Group
— the biggest drivers of purchase decisions for Gen Z and Early Millennials is the cohort wanting to live the full lifestyle of individual brands right from the start. Brand Journeys were so important to these demographics that it accounted for a quarter of all purchasing occasions, beating choice, value, impulse, and convenience as reasons to choose a specific brand.
The Age of Brand 2.0
Back to Ye, Gap, and Balenciaga. Now while the product or campaigns they’re putting out aren't groundbreaking, they’re effortlessly applying the fundamentals of the Age of Brand 1.0 in terms of impact, and applying them to the new realities and infrastructure of the digital landscape. Something that many other brands too often fail to do due to internal bureaucracy, a lack of expertise in digital media, their inability to seamlessly bridge content and commerce, and being out of touch with youth culture all together.
Ye, Gap, and Balenciaga most of all are letting their audience in. They still control the message but they’ve (in)directly gamified their brand universes to an extent where we now engage with the brands and the products they put out in various depths. As a result they’re building the framework that will define the Age of Brand 2.0 which we’ve already entered.
It’s an age defined by consumerism where brands and their ambassadors have built a universe so big, we can no longer escape them. An age where we’ve come to accept this constant presence and now want to engage in a dialogue with the brands at all times now that they define many of our digital identities. We want a say in how their story ends. An age where we’ve humanized brands to an extent where we hold them to the same standards as people. We want them to think, speak, and feel as much as us. We want them to share our personal values, and lead where we go next in lieu of our trust falling in traditional governing bodies. Those successful we will repay with our attention, money, and ultimately loyalty. Those that don’t, well…
Brands successful in the Age of Brand 2.0 will be able to sell us anything. We wait until their next product drop, piece of content, or brand ambassador messaging happening, after which us fans put the pen to paper and decide how and when that marketing effort’s chapter ends. Winners in the Age of Brand 2.0 understand that they’re no longer in control. Like in the Age of Brand 1.0 they a) curate what the storyline is, who is associated with it, when, how, and where it’s distributed and launched, but then add in b) the freedom for it to live, the testing excersize informing their next project.
Those who leverage the Age of Brand 2.0 — Ye, Gap, Balenciaga, but also Nike, Telfar and Jacquemus —
Ye, Gap, and Balenciaga have become masters at teasing any launch. They view the tease much like the trailer of a new season of your favorite series. To build anticipation of course. Here, they introduce the cast of characters associated with the project, where and when the release will happen, and most importantly what it is that we’re exactly waiting for. They then leave you breadcrumbs à la Hansel and Gretel for the next clue, it gets the conversation flowing before launching trailer 2.
The Interval Launch
Once the launch has arrived, brands like Yeezy, Gap, and Balenciaga don’t just give you what you were waiting for, they’ll hit you with five storylines at once, and then next to the standard year-round available mainline product and messaging, nothing for weeks. It's the season finale. Think Balenciaga x Fortnite, Kim Kardashian’s all black viral Balenciaga MET GALA fit, Balenciaga x Simpson’s short film, the “you-are-the-runway” runway show, and Balenciaga’s controversial Crocs heels. All appeared in the same four weeks. Then an empty IG feed.
Ye’s latest interval launch strategy looks similar. Within a month he hosted a massive concert with Drake, broke the celeb internet with his new rumored partner Julia Fox, dropped his first video from his hit Donda album that doubled as the first Yeezy x Gap ad, announced Yeezy x Gap would partner with Balenciaga and its creative director Demna Gvasalia, and dropped the full trailer of the Ye Netflix doc. Then nothing.
Moving away from the always too polished drop release schedule has differentiated Balenciaga and brand Ye from others, even in the smallest way. New fans can hop on where the brands left off. In moments of rest, they can discover past seasons.
Like our favorite series, Ye, Gap, and Balenciaga have made their audiences active participants in continuing the dialogue with other fans and media long after an episode has aired. Now it’s on us to discover all the references and nuances featured in the latest episode, in their case, a collection launch, a campaign video, a surprise release, an appearance on the red carpet.
“Who actually is Julia Fox? Was she wearing Balenciaga heels on a beach? What boots was Ye wearing in that paparazzi pic? Who are Ras Bartram and Arnaud Bresson who styled and directed the Yeezy x Gap video? I heard Ye is doing a video with Cardi B in a Balenciaga store, is that true? When is this Balenciaga x Crocs heel even coming out?”
It’s how they’re all doing it. And all that for a cropped black hoodie you thought was just a mundane object.
But that’s not all. YES/NO is State of The Art’s sporadic list of wins and fails of the day, week, month, year?
Dana Thomas’ simple question asked in her New York Times Op-Ed.
She questions, “What if You Could Read a Fashion Label Like a Food Label?”
Telfar’s It’s not in, it’s out embossed apparel product announcement
Ian Isiah, a follow-up to the hit Bushwick Birkin tote, and a teaser video to put all you other brands to shame.
Van Moof’s guerilla-style organic influencer marketing.
So far the Dutch e-bicycle company that has already raised $182 million in funding has Trojan horsed itself into your feed with custom bikes for style leaders including Jacquemus, Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and Arthur Kar.
They’re just like us, but they save $4 on daily coffee runs and know, feel, live just that bit more to their full potential than you do.
Bottega Veneta’s Great Wall of China outdoor campaign
With the Italian luxury brand promoting its campaigns on the rooftop of LAX airport and at the bottom of Sydney’s Bondi Beach pool they had my attention. They’ve just taken over part of the great wall of China, also pledging to donate to the historic site’s renovation. But something about that just feels… no.
Balenciaga’s new ‘Phantom’ sneaker
Save yourself $895 and visit New Balance. Buy the new $90 porcelain Balenciaga reusable coffee cup instead to stick it to those NFT bros.