Luxury Is Banking on Celebrities Again. But Is It A Good Idea?


Kati Chitrakorn | September 23, 2019

Luxury brands are again embarking on partnerships with celebrities to promote their brand. But while there is evidence that celebrities do affect some behaviours of consumers, the question of whether or not this influences consumers to buy the product remains.

Earlier this May, Givenchy dropped a trail of teasers on its official Instagram page, revealing only the outlines of who would become “the new face of Givenchy” for Autumn/Winter 2019. There was an extra-long flippy ponytail, a glimpse of a pearl headband (similar to the ones Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot and Givenchy’s artistic director Clare Waight Keller wore to the Met Gala) and a dress with a cut-out back that bore a similar resemblance to Audrey Hepburn’s iconic number in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The post was accompanied by two hashtags in the caption: #GivenchyFamily and #Arivenchy.

It wasn’t hard for observers to guess who the mysterious figure was: Ariana Grande. In a release that followed the same month, Grande said: “I am so proud to be the new face of Givenchy. It is a house I have forever admired, and to be part of that family is such an honour. I love this clothing and the confidence and joy it brings to the people wearing it. Not only is the clothing timeless and beautiful, but I’m proud to work with a brand that makes people feel celebrated for who they are, and unapologetic about whatever they want to be.”

That “family” she’s joining includes notable Givenchy fans like Gadot, Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and actress Julianne Moore — not to mention Hepburn, the original brand ambassador who wore her friend Hubert de Givenchy’s designs on and off screen. But the appointment of Grande marks only the second time parent company LVMH has teamed up with a pop icon, after formally announcing its plans to launch Rihanna’s luxury line Fenty. None of Givenchy’s former faces have had their own hashtag either.

So what does #Arivenchy mean?

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new — Mark Twain’s image once appeared on cigar packaging — and remain an important tool for brands and advertisers. But what’s clear is that putting a celebrity stamp on products no longer has the same effect it might have done years ago. “Consumers are wary of trusting what people say about brands,” said Anusha Couttigane, principal fashion analyst, EMEA at research firm Kantar, citing that nearly one quarter (24 percent) of global consumers believe you can’t always trust what people say about brands online.

But it hasn’t stopped brands from trying. According to eMarketer, fashion and retail spent more than any other sector on advertising in 2017, accounting for 22 percent of the $202 billion (€184 billion) total — and a significant share of that money goes towards celebrity endorsements, despite that “there is no concrete research on the market to show that celebrity endorsements have a greater impact on the bottom line sales of a brand, than a non-celebrity marketing campaign,” said Jeetendr Sehdev, a celebrity branding authority and bestselling author of The Kim Kardashian Principle.

“There is evidence that celebrities do affect attitudinal behaviours of a consumer,” Sehdev noted. “But whether or not that influences them to buy the product is a different story.”

Ariana Grande, therefore, is an interesting case study. Not only is she the face of Givenchy, two months later, H&M;, the world’s second largest retailer, announced they would be teaming up with the pop star on an exclusive collection to coincide with her “Sweetener” world tour. Among the line are T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and a bodysuit, all of which are emblazoned with lyrics from the 25-year-old’s hit songs and images from her latest album.

H&M; and Ariana Grande's exclusive collection: Photo: Courtesy.

The fast fashion giant (H&M;) and luxury French house (Givenchy) sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. What value does a celebrity like Ariana Grande bring to either one?

For starters, the partnerships are very different in their execution. Couttigane pointed out that “at Givenchy, Ariana Grande features as the face of the brand” whereas “with H&M;, her face is literally featured on the product.” It marks a shift in the kind of celebrity endorsements available today, where it’s no longer just about hiring a celebrity to be the face of a campaign, but to also have their involvement in developing the product.

One of the best examples of this is Rihanna’s Fenty beauty line, which racked up a reported $100 million in sales in its first few weeks and did nearly $552 million in its first full year in business. And while retailers benefit from the additional exposure, celebrities are also being compensated in a different way. “Whereas before they would just receive a flat fee, they’re now taking equity stakes in these partnerships,” said Sehdev.

Grande’s partnership with H&M; makes sense, not only because it coincides with her tour, but because her core fan club is mapped to the same demographic. On the other hand, at Givenchy, what’s clear is that since the arrival of Waight Keller in 2017, the house has been working to reposition itself to become more relevant to a younger audience.

Media Impact Value

It's a strategy that's working. To date, Ariana Grande and her collaboration with Givenchy has accumulated an impressive Media Impact Value (a quantitive number for the total impact of media placements on all channels - online, social and print - inclusive of paid, owned and earned mentions) of $25.13 million, according to data from Launchmetrics, with almost all of the value generated originating from Instagram, which accounted for $22 million of the total MIV. Arivenchy, meanwhile, was the top-performing keyword (although this is likely because Givenchy used the hashtag on all of their campaign posts featuring Ariana, as a tagline.) 

“Choosing a celebrity who can deliver a youthful perspective can help,” said Couttigane, noting that the luxury apparel industry is going through a process of democratisation and casualisation. Under former creative director Riccardo Tisci, who held the role at Givenchy from 2005 to 2017, the company reportedly grew revenues more than sixfold, fuelled in part by the Italian designer’s street-savvy collections, as well as his social media prowess and influential celebrity supporters. Therefore it’s “unsurprising,” said Couttigane, that Givenchy would look to a pop singer to do the same.

For Sehdev, perspectives have also changed. “I think the old school way of thinking ‘if there’s a celebrity who’s working with H&M;, we, as a luxury brand can’t touch them’ is gone,” he said. “We’re seeing consumers who are shopping at H&M; but they also have items from Givenchy too.”

Do you need to know about some of the best practices in reaching specific consumers?

The reality is that gone are the days when consumers bought cereal simply based on the famous face gracing the box or invested in an expensive car just because their favourite celebrity drove it. This might still be a factor in their decision, but in the age of transparency, consumers know and accept that celebrities can be bought for their brand endorsements.

Ultimately, working with celebrities is always a risk, because brands are staking their reputation on the behaviour of the ambassador. But with many celebrities on a mission to build their own fashion empires — you only have to look at the Kardashians, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Chiara Ferragni to see this trend gaining traction — it’s one of the reasons it’s still “prudent” for brands to join forces with celebrities, said Couttigane. “Otherwise, celebrities might beat them at their own game.”

Cover Image: Givenchy. Photo: Courtesy.

Collaborations | Fashion | Social Media