In the summer of 2012, news broke that Canadian fashion designer Dior would be releasing a limited-edition collection of sunglasses in homage to their spring/summer 2012 collection. The designer had seen commercial success with the help of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and wanted to harness the power of social media to spread the word about their latest offering. They turned to Twitter and asked their followers if they would like to be among the first to learn about the new collection and be the first to try them on. With only a few agreed to participate in the social experiment, the designer would keep the identities of the selected individuals a secret until the clothes were worn by the participants. The resulting viral trend, known as #illusionism, became the talk of the industry.

The Power of Instagram

While Dior had seen success online, it wasn’t until they incorporated Instagram into their marketing plan that they started to see real traction. The luxury brand had previously used social media to promote their fragrance and they turned to Instagram to help spread the word about their sunglasses. One of the reasons why they may have chosen to use Instagram rather than other social platforms is that the fashion and style-focused audience tends to be on the platform. This helps drive relevant traffic to their website and social media channels. They also use Instagram to help promote their fall/winter 2012 collection, using the hashtag #illusionsix, in case anyone missed the original #illusionism trend.

A New Audience for Dior

One of the major takeaways from the social media experiment with Dior was that people love a good challenge. While the brand tried to keep the identities of their secret shoppers a secret, they soon learned that many of their target audience had chosen to be a part of the project because of the allure of trying on a style icon’s sunglasses. One woman who participated in the social experiment revealed that she had been following Dior on Instagram prior to the collection’s reveal, and was thrilled to learn that she would be among the first to try the designer’s latest creations. She said: “I remember swooning over the Dior brand and the incredible styles they produced. It’s such a luxury and inspiration to be able to try on an actual piece of clothing designed by the same renowned company that created timeless pieces like the infinity scarf and the ballerina costume!”

The Evolution of Viral Influencing

While Dior saw a spike in traffic and social media engagement following the discovery of the original #illusionism trend, it wasn’t long before people started to see through the illusion. Designer and public figurestwitterati Kiko Kashimo and Lil Nas X both pointed out that the secret shoppers were not in fact wearing the designer’s sunglasses and that the designer had set them up to take a picture so they would look like they were wearing Dior. As a result of this revelation, the original hashtag was changed to and subsequently evolved into a meme featuring the faces of those who pointed out the imposters. The evolution of the hashtag can be seen here:

With the help of the internet and social media, Dior saw an opportunity to grow their audience and gain new fans. While some may see this as a bad thing, those who worked with the brand saw it as an indication that they were doing something right. One fashion media strategist who worked with the designer said: “The best part about this whole experience is that it’s opened up a whole new audience for Dior. One that maybe wouldn’t have discovered them otherwise. So, in that sense, it’s been a success.”

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

With the help of influencers, or celebrities who have a large audience on social media, brands can now target an audience that is already engaged with like-minded individuals who may have purchased similar products in the past or may be interested in trying new things. Essentially, this is known as influencer marketing, a strategy that many big-name brands have adopted in recent years.

While this strategy may be effective, it’s not without its risks. If a celebrity or influencer promotes a product or service that is deemed risky by the Federal Trade Commission, the individual may be legally obligated to disclose that they received financial compensation for promoting that product. Before engaging with an influencer or celebrity, brands must make sure that their products and marketing strategies are above board and do not violate any laws. These risks must be weighed against the potential benefits and it’s essential that brands develop a plan before executing any promotional activities.

A Different Way to Promote Luxury Products

While influencers may help to drive traffic to a brand’s site and social media accounts, they can also be a useful tool for generating buzz and encouraging individuals to purchase a product or service. As a result of this, many brands are starting to see influencers as part of their marketing and communications strategy rather than just a brand ambassador or product tester. For example, Stella McCartney used singer Fergie as an “angel investor” to help fund the development of a new sustainable luxury clothing company, Arise. Fergie’s investment in the company will likely prove to be profitable, as she has a history of successful business investments.

Regardless of the strategy that a brand chooses to adopt, it’s essential that they keep their audience engaged. To do this, many rely on content that is both authentic and relevant to their target audience. While it may be tempting to resort to expensive adverts in order to gain more traction, this may cause your target audience to see your brand as a cheap imitation rather than an esteemed luxury brand. After all, if you’re going to cheat, at least do it stylishly!