Luxury fashion brands often go to great lengths to court celebrities. For instance, to help dress actress Julianne Moore for this year’s Oscars, Karl Lagerfeld had 22 people from the Chanel atelier spend 500 hours altering a couture design.
But for Louis Vuitton a Chinese celebrity endorsement has proven a surprise – and not a welcome one.
Last week it found its iconic monogrammed suitcase used in a photo spread in the magazine Bazaar China. It shows the famed local comedian Guo Degang, dressed in what looks like a kung-fu suit, as he steps off a helicopter, followed by an elegant woman in a traditional Chinese gown. A man with tattoos – perhaps Guo’s bodyguard – is walking ahead of them, touting two of the Louis Vuitton suitcases.
The image caught the attention of the local media. “Guo Degang looks rich and proud, like he owns the world,” TMT Post, a news portal, said of the choreographed scene.
China’s ingenious netizens then started to exploit the image to parody Vuitton’s “Journey” commercials (Bono, Sean Connery and Angelina Jolie have all appeared in these ads) by photoshopping the brand’s logo and the tagline “The Spirit of Travel” onto the bottom.
This faked advertisement quickly went viral and it was so convincing that many people regarded it as a genuine Vuitton campaign featuring the comedian as an unlikely brand ambassador.
“Guo Degang endorses LV now? The luxury brand must be targeting the North [the comedian is known for xiangsheng, a style of comedy that is most popular in northern China],” one netizen wrote.
If Louis Vuitton subscribed to the belief that all publicity is good publicity, the fake ad would have been a bonanza. After all, Guo is one of the richest celebrities in China and he boasts a massive 62 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent.
Unfortunately, the French fashion house doesn’t seem too chuffed with the unexpected exposure. The day after the image of the fake ad first surfaced, the brand issued a statement denying any involvement in the photo and complaining moreover that the image was “inappropriate and misleading”.
Industry insiders say that the unauthorised nature of the image may have touched a raw nerve at the luxury house.
“There is nothing that annoys Louis Vuitton more than the words shanzhai (counterfeit) and tuhao (a nouveau riche, with a tendency for bling and showing-off)” says TMT Post. “The luxury brand has done a lot in the past few years – through its design and marketing – to distance itself from those things to appear more low-key and sophisticated.”
The problem, it seems, could be Guo himself. In his demeanour and appearance, the comedian still embodies the look of a tuhao.
“So to have him endorse its product, that’s like stabbing Louis Vuitton where it hurts most,” TMP Post notes. “His endorsement is one that the French brand doesn’t want.”
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