LOUIS VUITTON x KRIS WU: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM BIG DATA
HOW LOUIS VUITTON ANNOUNCED THE PARTNERSHIP
On October 31, months after appointing new artistic director Virgil Abloh – signalling a shift to the intermingling of luxury and street style – Louis Vuitton announced on Weibo its appointment of Chinese-Canadian singer and actor Kris Wu as the brand’s new global ambassador.
The announcement came with a set of black and white photos of Kris modelling the new SS2019 men’s collection, soon amplified in a post by Harper’s Bazaar unveiling the cover of its December issue, featuring Kris Wu wearing a Louis Vuitton cape. On 1 November, Louis Vuitton hit again with a promotional video of its “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” exhibition featuring the new ambassador. Finally, the following day Kris released his new album “Antares” on iTunes, grabbing global headlines (and suspicion) for coming at number one, ahead of Ariana Grande.
The timing of the roll-out speaks volumes to the resources that Louis Vuitton must have invested, but most importantly the expectations that the brand will have from the collaboration.
KRIS WU FANDOM
Born in China and raised in Canada, Kris Wu rose to fame as part of the Korean-Chinese boy-band EXO, before pursuing a solo career with a focus on hip-hop. Today, he yields one of the biggest fandoms in China, with close to 45 million Weibo followers and 6.4 million Instagram fans, making him a top stakeholder for international brands with big budgets – including the likes of Burberry and Bulgari. But the star is not without controversy: his album “Antares” raised questions for doing too well on iTunes, with no definite resolution – though the success was attributed by some to his over-eager fans boosting downloads through multiple purchases. And earlier in 2018, he was backed by his most ardent fans in a very public dissing contest with users of Hupu, an online sports forum, who questioned his singing ability.
Unsurprisingly therefore, Louis Vuitton’s appointment itself sparked animated discussions on the Chinese web. Critics view the so-called “king of street wear” as too young, too mainstream, too commercial for a storied 164-year-old luxury brand, and question whether his fans are likely to be Louis Vuitton customers. Meanwhile, others point to his potential to bring his cohorts of loyal fans to appreciate – and purchase from – the brand.
HOW BIG DATA AND NATURAL-LANGUAGE PROCESSING WORKS
So which side is more likely? Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, the appointment is the ideal opportunity to put big data and natural language processing to the test, and answer a key question for luxury brands: How can we figure out the common ground between an influencers’ fans and a brand, and how can brands use this information to make the most out of any “marriage of influence”?
This is how it works: applied to data sets from Weibo and Taobao, machine-learning algorithms are able to review all publicly available data – both text and images – to make the most educated inferences on users’ shopping habits, purchasing power and intent, as well as stylistic preferences. Viewed in large sets and with a margin either way (though highly sophisticated, it is after all still inference), this information can reveal macro trends and characteristics, and help develop a “matching index” for any given partnership.
WHAT WE LEARNED
No surprises: the majority of the ambassador’s Weibo fans are female and young
As can be expected, Kris’ Weibo fans are mostly female (86%). Over 82% of them are likely to be undergraduate students or new professionals who joined the workforce for less than 3 years, leaving a limited number of middle management and executives with high disposable income. So when it comes to luxury items sometimes priced as high as RMB 50,000, many of his fans may be priced out.
Over 1 million of his Weibo fans are very likely to be luxury shoppers
If we look at purchasing behaviour (inferred from how often Kris’ Weibo fans mention product purchases, and what these purchases are), it appears 2.87% (or around 1.3 million) of his Weibo fans have purchased luxury products in the past three months. The percentage drops to 0.21% (around 94,000) for those with multiple purchases. While the percentages are low, the figures they represent are encouraging indeed.
Star-power is real, and it is measurable
Though Taobao figures by no means represent overall trends in luxury (a majority of Chinese luxury shoppers still prefer to research online and purchase offline), we can still get a glimpse of the effect of star-power on sales in China, by recording transactions of products 1) advertised with Kris’ pictures; 2) advertised with reference to him; or 3) featuring reviews indicating that the purchases were inspired by him.
Throughout a period of three months (August to November), over 51,000 product sales could be linked to the celebrity, with a total value of RMB 24.5 million. Of these, 20,000 fashion items sold at an average price of RMB 1,000. This is still shy of the lowest price tags associated with Louis Vuitton, but encouragingly high considering the platform carries brands across the spectrum – from mass market to top-end luxury.
Handbags are in vogue with Kris’ followers
Of all purchases that can be linked to Kris on Taobao, handbags formed the second best-selling category, following make-up. This is particularly interesting for Louis Vuitton, when we note that handbags were the second most popular category also among Kris’ Weibo fans, with 20% having purchased or expressed an interest in purchasing one over the three months period.
Given these figures, inviting Kris Wu to carry LV handbags on various public occasions might prove a smart approach to resonate with existing preferences and purchase intent among his fans.
Travel and luxury are the top “common ground” topics
On the one hand, brands have caught on that they need to constantly adapt to evolving audience preferences if they want to keep growing, or even stay afloat. On the other hand, consumers in 2019 are savvy and will see through marketing that is excessively tailored to them and loses the values and confidence of the brand. The solution is to find a common ground. Here, we used the five key values of Louis Vuitton’ as a framework and assessed the incidence of each topic in conversations among the new ambassador’s Weibo followers. Travel and luxury came on top.
This is the hard data. But to make anything of it, we need to understand what the two topics mean to younger Chinese generations.
Travel for some years has been associated with luxury in China, with experiences growing to rival the lure of physical assets. In fact younger Chinese luxury shoppers may already be used to travelling across Asia and the globe, whether for work, studying abroad, visiting family or for pleasure. With the involvement of Kris Wu, Louis Vuitton has an opportunity to push its travel messaging around Volez, Voguez, Voyagez even further, into a more street concept that will resonate with his Chinese fans.
The concept of luxury, meanwhile, has matured in China beyond high-price tags and label status, to approach its associated meaning in Europe: it requires authenticity and personality. It requires an attitude – and Kris Wu’s appointment certainly provides this.
As a traditional luxury brand, Louis Vuitton’s decision to appoint a young, mainstream actor as ambassador could be perceived as risky: overexposure could potentially affect the brand’s prestige in the public mind. But with younger consumers redefining what they expect from luxury, Kris Wu matching many of these expectations, and a considerable number of his young fans already shopping for luxury goods, the appointment may well prove to be a sound, long-term strategy to inspire the next generation of supporters for the luxury brand.