When I was listening to Alexander Wang in WebSummit 2019 (read my post about the Summit here), his thoughts about Lil Miquela caught my attention and kept me thinking:
Avatars, influencers, celebrities, leaders, spokespeople… They are all about finding the right narrative for an abstract entity or a community: A brand, a political point of view, a cult, a company, a religion… The challenge in encapsulation of an abstract is about simplification, refinement. So we need to be choiceful and make compromises about the narrative to build a sense of consistency in the way that abstract is represented internally and externally. This narrative should also be in sync with the organisation, help us to shape the decisions about the product/service design, define how company works and collaborates with others and how this should be represented within external communications.
Yes, it is not that easy and yes, we all know that “It is easier to fall for anything than to stand for something”; but without the right compromises, we risk to let our perceptions be shaped randomly among a sea of conflicting qualities and worse than that we risk to be indifferent.
I recalled Wang’s thinking about shaping his own brand avatar once again, after media shared the story about the new CK ad featuring Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela:
So thanks to fashion brands’ love around Lil Miquela, I just realised the importance of having a clear Influencer Strategy for brands and how critical it is to make it authentic. As expected, CK needed to make an apology and explain themselves:
As Wang indicates, brands can play gods and create/pay for any narrative they want. They can even work on AI to build virtual avatars to represent their values and beliefs. But they had that luxury for decades anyways. They worked with any celebrities they wanted, they could hire the best CEOs or world class agencies… They told their spokespeople what to say, how to behave and what message to deliver… All those “professionals” didn’t have freewill and they weren’t much more independent than Lil Miquela. So this was never about how “perfect” an agent delivers, it was all about how decisive and consistent a brand or a company is about what to stand for.
So Calvin Klein’s mistake may not be deliberately about queerbaiting. It is more likely to be about not making their intention clear enough and/or delivering it well to shape the perceptions about their own brand communications. So as an end-result of this, they were either misunderstood or they never had a clear intention right from the start anyways… If you’re using Influencers/ spokesperson to represent you, you cannot just be provocative for the sake of being provocative and expect people do the right interpretation on behalf of yourself.
And this is not only about external communications… For the ones who have never run a Focus Group, there is a very old-school but efficient projective technique in qualitative research: personification. So you expect respondents to discuss and agree on a personality of a brand: is it female, is it young, what kind of a life-style does that person have, is she sociable, reliable… This simple tool helps companies to understand if their narrative is approachable, likeable, aspirational… This tool is partially affected by the communications of the brand but more likely to be shaped by the category, product, sales point, services and consumer experience associations… Yet again, it is a very good tool for the whole company to understand what to do to improve that perception and make it more aligned with their vision.
I cannot find and share an up-to-date universal personification of brands, but even this individual work of an artist is very insightful and resonates.
Would Tesla or BMW be happy about these personifications? Partially yes, but they wouldn’t choose these as their avatars I assume… What kind of a virtual avatar would they create? And how authentic would it be?
So yes… Brands can play gods and they always liked this idea. But they have to know that this mountain of Olympus is really crowded and there is no demand for a mediocre god with no strong story or a clear focus anyways.