Michelle Phan has been described as the next Michael Jordan of the upscale endorsement world. She’s a 23-year-old Floridian who has become a massive YouTube sensation with her video make-up tutorials and beauty tips As of June 2010, her 100 videos have been viewed more than 150 million times. And now she is a video spokesperson for Lancome. Never heard of her? I had not either until I attended an Advertising Week panel on how luxury brands are attracting the coveted Generation Y audience. Michelle Phan was the star of the show even though she was not even in the room.
The panel, “Attracting Generation Luxur-Y,” was hosted by my Razorfish colleague Joe Crump and featured Scott Galloway, founder of L2 Think Tank, Paul James, vice president of Starwood luxury brands like the St. Regis, and Kamel Ouadi, global digital director, Louis Vuitton. Although the panel covered a lot of wide-ranging territory, the discussion that resonated the most for me is how Gen Y is redefining our notions of luxury.
We often think of luxury as something unattainable and indulgent. But to reach Gen Y, luxury brands need to stand for authenticity, passion, and emotion. Hence Michelle Phan has become the new face of luxury. As Scott Galloway pointed out during the panel discussion, “For Generation Y, luxury is about real people using real products.” In calling her the “the next Michael Jordan” of the luxury world, Scott cited how her appeal stems from the fact that she is genuine and social, in many ways the embodiment of Gen Y. People love her videos because she is real. She uses only products that she is comfortable using in real life, and she is “one of us,” not a megawatt celebrity from the world of the unattainable.
Louis Vuitton brought “real people” into the fold with its Journeys Award to showcase the talents of emerging filmmakers. Participants were invited to create movies that defined what a journey means to them, whether an emotional or physical one. The short-listed movies all answered the question, “Where will a journey take you?” — not “What does our brand mean to you?” The winners enjoyed the cachet of becoming feted by Luis Vitton. And Louis Vuitton in essence recruited quasi-spokespersons who brought an air of authenticity and emotion to the Louis Vuitton brand.
Joe Crump mentioned that relying on lesser known people to tell their stories is a departure for luxury brands, who are traditionally proprietary in their use of spokespeople. The shift in thinking reflects an acceptance that Gen Y want luxury to be more attainable. Hence St. Regis has opened up its brand by encouraging visits to its restaurants and hotel services even if you are not ready to shell out the money to stay at a hotel, and its parent Starwood operates the high-end but more affordable Aloft brand. And both Louis Vuitton and St. Regis have made their brands more social — for instance, Luis Vuitton uses social media to broadcast is fashion show.
Real people using real products and having real experiences. As Scott pointed out, “All great luxury brands have spokespeople — they just have not met them yet.”