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- 7 Dec 2011
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Communications After the Digital Boom: Frédéric Fontan, reflexgroup


Frédéric Fontan, event and PR creative director of reflexgroup, believes luxury brands will return to the concept of quality over quantity, following 2010’s social media explosion

The latest in our series of conversations with communications leaders, where we explore and discuss the future of the luxury industry, we spoke with Frédéric Fontan, partner and creative director of reflexgroup, an independent communication group dedicated to luxury and premium brands.

A holding, reflexgroup is organised as three structured specialist units: image, interactive and public, with offices in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Rabat, Sydney, Geneva, London and Shanghai. The full service agency seeks to revitalise legendary brands and invent new ways of communicating, employing over 100 people, with an average age of just 30 years old.

Directing the Paris office, event and PR creative director Frédéric Fontan formerly worked as a creative consultant to Hermès USA, as well as serving at multichannel brand activation agency, Betwin, as creative director and head of PR and events. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that Mr. Fontan is a firm believer in the power of events and real life experiences, musing that no advertising is stronger than a real experience of the brand and the product. We took some time to further investigate the current state of luxury communications.

 Brands are trying to show their authenticity, a link to history and showcase craftsmanship 

What is your personal philosophy, regarding the way luxury brands should be communicated?

Luxury Brands should find a good balance between heritage, marketing and innovation. Hermès has had this philosophy from the beginning and this is the reason why they are growing in such a spectacular way. At Hermès, both brand image and the values of the house are connected; this is not only a marketing strategy. There is honesty and transparency with the consumer, who then feel emotionally connected to the brand from that communication.

Other houses have taken notice and attempted to return to messages about craftsmanship and history – the more essential part of luxury marketing – not just the aspirational, bling bling, mass prestige kind of communications. This is a sensible move by brands, who in the past five years have invested predominantly in mass marketing – wide exposure, e-business, entry level products – which led them to somewhat lose their identity and the feeling of excellence & prestige.

Innovation is also important, but it must also respect a brands history and heritage. Research and development should start in the archives but be given a modern twist. For example, Paco Rabanne and Courreges looking back to the 1960’s to revive iconic designs, or at Vionnet, looking even further back into the brand’s days of glory. Innovation can also come through breaking rules, like De Grisogono using black diamonds or Chanel developing innovative luxury sport watches like the J12 superleggera. Hermès and Goyard differentiate themselves with personalised leather luggage and sur mesure.


Website created for G.H.Mumm Grande Champagne,

What are some of the key messages luxury brands are trying to convey in the current climate?

Brands are trying to show their authenticity, a link to history and showcase craftsmanship. The annual theme of Hermes is artisan contemporain, it is a theme that all the big brands have now followed. Recently Gucci has focused its advertising on craftsmanship, using old pictures from the studios, with real craftsmen. LVMH also participated in journee particuliers, opening up the ateliers, houses and studios of Dior, Givenchy, Vuitton and more, to a large audience of the general public to show what a luxury brand is really all about – passionate people working hard on some beautiful material to create challenging and perfect product.

 Luxury brands are beginning to realise that it is not the quantity of message that is important, but the quality, and that too many streams of digital communications can in fact be negative 

How is that message evolving as they engage digital?

At first, luxury brands were resistant to digital technology, instead they used beautiful imagery online, linked to advertising campaigns that had a lack of interactivity and experience. Then there was a digital boom from luxury brands, leading to lots of applications, e-commerce, Facebook pages and a marketing and sales strategy designed to gain more and more fans and reach an unprecedented amount of consumers.

Now most brands are trying to return to their DNA and focus their efforts on what is essential. They are beginning to realise that it is not the quantity of message that is important, but the quality. And that too many streams of digital communications can in fact be negative to a luxury brand. The temptation is big and the balance is hard to find, but brands need to develop a strategy fitting to their DNA, not just follow the crowd.


Arjowiggins creative Papers: Curious Story, which netted Reflex 11 prizes, including the Grand Prix Strategie Luxe

What changes have you noticed in client attitudes towards print campaigns and advertising?

As I said, craftsmanship is back, but emotion is also a big part of a luxury house and products can be part of a personal moment or a family environment, and often hold a certain social value. With digital people are more and more virtually linked to brands but a luxury product is a real life experience. Understanding this, campaigns are starting to move more and more to a concept of lifestyle, linking to life and real people. In terms of printing, brands are becoming more conscious of the impact their materials are having on the environment and beginning to focus more on sustainability.

 No advertising is stronger that a real experience of the brand and the product 

If you had to select only one of today’s modern advertising mediums to take into the next five years, which would it be and why?

As said by the bloggers and followers, IRLE – in real life experience! No advertising is stronger that a real experience of the brand and the product. Brands must come back to smarter public relations strategies, to create a real universe for exchange with their fans and consumers. It could be by sponsoring a festival or an artist, taking part in a social cause, organising a selective event, as well as creating an engaging website experience to be shared with others in real life.


Website created for Louis XIII Grande Champage Cognac,

How do you envision your industry to change in the coming years?

Digital strategy will change and become more and more intelligent and edgy, after a decade of aggressive advertising and social media multi-trials. This decade has been crazy, brands have become addicted to 2.0 – with Facebook and Twitter on the front lines – everyone is running a marathon to gain followers, friends and likes, without even saying hello to their neighbour!

Events will play a key role for brands, enabling people to meet each other and the brand in real life. Luxury brands have the power and heritage to begin to experiment with more natural and sensual styles of communications, away from tablets and Smartphones.

For others discussions regarding the future of luxury and communications, please see the following:

- Targeting the Truly Affluent: Jim Kerwin, The Private Journey
- Straight to Consumers: Jerome Allien, Boom Mobile
- Augmenting Luxury Realities: Jonathan Chippindale, Holition


Reflex Group are an independent communication group dedicated to luxury and premium brands, specialising in event production, advertising, brand identity, communication, digital media, graphic design, online marketing and public relations.