Over the weekend, Gucci launched its #tfwGucci campaign, a series of fashion-focused macros poking fun at some of the more ridiculous elements of fashion life created by some of the internet's most popular meme-makers. Despite being shared endlessly across social media — and prompting many spin-offs — not everyone is loving it.
The critics aren't concerned about a luxury brand going deeply lo-fi, or older consumers feeling excluded from the dialog. Rather, they're worried about corporate appropriation of a subculture. Some have taken to Twitter to point out most consumers of memes could never afford the watches the campaign is promoting anyway.
@gucci using memes as a marketing tool are like dads who try to be hip and cool to bond with their kids
— さようなら (@MiltMiltLu) March 19, 2017
Gucci is appropriating our sacred internet culture by capitalizing off of memes. what a time to be alive™ https://t.co/YdXdxnGHXo
— Kelsey Steck (@kelseysteck) March 19, 2017
The makers of the memes in question are firing back, not only defending their involvement in the campaign but also Gucci's decision to take inspiration from the explore page. They feel the move is the brand recognizing their scores of young fans who obsessively share their images across social media, as well as a genuine attempt to celebrate the meme-makers themselves. As Sebastian Tribbie commented on his page @youvegotnomale, "THE INTERNET IS SALTY ABOUT #tfwGucci sorry not SORRY, it was GENIUS marketing and a lot of people can afford an 800 dollar watch last time I checked."
To be fair, the concern over brands gleaning content from youth culture is legitimate. Last year several fashion giants came under fire for appearing to lift designs from independent artists without offering remuneration or even credit. In a similar, although less sketchy, move, Michael Kors also faced criticism for its street-style inspired #SidewalkSpotted campaign that presented influencers in seemingly candid moments. While not directly lifting anyone's intellectual property, many felt the attempt to mimic internet fashion culture felt inauthentic.
But it's worth remembering that Gucci isn't just ripping off the language and tropes, it's working with — and paying — popular page moderators and internet artists like @gothshakira, @williamcult, @meatwreck, @pollynor and @textsfromyourexistentialist to create the memes for it. It also made sure the creators were recognized and celebrated on the Gucci Instagram, posting lengthy bios of each collaborator detailing their work, motivation and agendas. The move was similar to the brand's recent #24HourAce campaign, that employed young artists around the world to make short pieces of video art to celebrate its Ace sneakers. Viewed in this way, the collaborations can be seen as a positive move. Whether the jokes fully land for you or not, they are a demonstration of how fashion giants can collaborate with individuals to benefit both parties. Now someone just put that all in a starter pack and we'll call it a day.
Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Instagram