Louis Vuitton’s latest luggage campaign was hard to miss.
On Saturday, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the image exploded through Annie Leibovitz lens of football superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi locked in a friendly game of chess on social media. As of Monday, Louis Vuitton’s tweet of the image (captioned “Victory is a state of mind”) had been reposted more than 55,000 times. On Instagram, Ronaldo and Messi both shared the photo, with a total of 65 million likes, the highest number in the history of the platform.
On some level, the success of the campaign came down to numbers. Ronaldo has Instagram’s most popular account with over 500 million followers. And only a brand with Louis Vuitton’s marketing budgets could provide the shock and awe of featuring not one, but two of the world’s best footballers in one image.
But the image also had a clever emotional resonance. Both Ronaldo and Messi have said they plan to retire from football soon and the 2022 World Cup will likely be their last. The depiction of the old competitors taking their rivalry into the more contemplative and mature chess arena clearly struck a chord.
Displays of sportsmanship and mutual admiration tend to provoke strong reactions: tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have long elicited critical acclaim for their affectionate exchanges on and off the court, culminating in a highly emotional (and much shared) match earlier this year as Federer prepared to retire from the sport. It’s the kind of moment that brands like Louis Vuitton dream of being associated with – so why not create one?
Chess fans also noticed that the state of affairs in the campaign matched an iconic 2017 showdown between chess champions Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, adding a layer of intrigue and topic for online buzz.
Louis Vuitton’s campaign deftly managed to tap the rising interest in football ahead of the World Cup while sidestepping the controversies surrounding the event, from Qatar’s brutal treatment of LGBTQ minorities to the exploitation of migrant workers (from who are estimated to have lost thousands during construction). of World Cup stadiums). Sportswear giants such as Nike, Adidas and Puma (who collectively dress more than 80 percent of the teams), beverage partners such as Budweiser and Louis Vuitton itself (which has been producing a special trophy cabinet for the event since 2010) were unwilling to withdraw their participation. in the crowded tournament.
Louis Vuitton is revisiting its trophy case collaboration this year, selling a World Cup-themed capsule collection. But it hasn’t posted about any of these activations on Instagram — and it doesn’t need to if the bad buzz about Qatar doesn’t die down. With the chess photo and ensuing media coverage, the brand has already garnered online buzz worth an estimated $13.5 million in just 48 hours, according to Launchmetrics. That’s more than twice as much as Adidas’ recent collaboration with K-Pop supergroup Blackpink, and about 40 percent higher than the initial buzz around Versace’s “Jungle Dress” revival starring Jennifer Lopez in 2019, according to data from the consultancy.
A spokesman for Louis Vuitton declined to comment on the controversy surrounding this year’s World Cup, or say how much Messi and Ronaldo’s sponsorships have cost.
Louis Vuitton’s football marketing coup comes during a crucial holiday shopping season, as luxury brands try to maintain their post-pandemic momentum amid mounting macroeconomic headwinds. After a 22 percent increase this year, consulting firm Bain & Co. that growth in the luxury industry will slow to between 3 and 8 percent next year thanks to inflation, lower economic growth and strict coronavirus measures hindering the recovery of China’s retail sector.
In an uncertain economy, Louis Vuitton seems more than ever invested in bolstering its broad appeal by showcasing well-known ambassadors with timeless pieces that are unlikely to go out of style. Annie Leibovitz’s campaign is an aesthetic throwback to the ‘Core Values’ series she created for the brand from 2007 to the 2010s, which promoted Louis Vuitton’s monogrammed luggage alongside such prominent faces as Russian statesman Mikhail Gorbachev, film directors Francis Ford and Sophia Coppola and football greats Pelé, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. Those ads aimed to rebalance perceptions in favor of the brand’s historic territory of travel and craftsmanship, after it entered pop culture and fashion under designer Marc Jacobs.
“This kind of advertising is not about the specific product, but about the allure of the brand,” says London-based luxury consultant Mario Ortelli, who called the new campaign a “masterstroke.” “It’s about reaching a very broad consumer base with a message of heritage and exclusivity that is relevant to everyone,” he added.
The blockbuster luggage placement could help defend Vuitton’s marketing territory as the travel brand after a major rival, Kering-owned Gucci, attempted to promote its own monogrammed travel bags and suitcases in a major marketing campaign spearheaded by Ryan Gosling.
The photo opp of Messi and Ronaldo also raises awareness of Louis Vuitton’s Damier Azur checkerboard motif, a best-selling signature for which the brand has repeatedly lobbied for trademark protection with mixed results. While competitors argue that the chessboard is too commonplace to qualify for trademark status, Vuitton argues that the pattern’s long history of investing in marketing makes it a brand signature worthy of protection. In October, the European Union Intellectual Property Office said Louis Vuitton had failed to prove “distinctiveness acquired through use” across the EU.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who collectively hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed the shareholder documentation guaranteeing full editorial independence from BoF.