God, I love memes. They’re random, weird, unexpected and can easily tap into our collective psyche or express feelings that we sometimes don’t know how to put into words. The Arthur fist, evil Kermit, crying Jordan, that guy named Roll Safe who taps his head with the slightest bit of smugness — these now-iconic images, accompanied by a caption in a plain font that’s relatable, silly and sharable with little to no context, are what help to make the internet a magical place. The beauty of a meme is that it speaks for itself; you laugh in agreement, join the cultural conversation by putting your own spin on it or passing it along to your followers, and then you move on until the next funny meme comes along. While memes are a zeitgeisty form of expression that are great for bringing like-minded people together, rarely do they leave you feeling prompted to go out and buy something.
However, it was only a matter of time before this youthful phenomenon was co-opted by a luxury fashion label in an attempt to woo millennial shoppers. Gucci, one of the buzziest brands of the moment, launched a meme campaign last week called #TFWGucci, which coincided with the release of its new Le Marché des Merveilles watch collection. “For #TFWGucci, international meme creators have been approached to either create a meme themselves, incorporating Gucci imagery, or to propose an idea that the House can realize by inviting a visual artist… to bring it to life,” the brand said in a statement. Ugh.
Of course, I can’t ignore the fact that these “international meme creators” have a valuable skill that they should cash in on. (By the way, is one considered “international” if one exists solely on the internet? Do we mean internetional? Moving on.) Plus, creating this sort of profitable #content for brands is inevitable and has already been going on for quite some time. In fact, Sebastian Tribbie Matheson of @youvegotnomale has been making a living off of his memes, or, as he calls it “experiential marketing.” But of all of the brands in the world, did Gucci really have to tap into internet youth culture to sell $870 watches?
A recent piece by i-D points out that millennials have increasingly used memes to help address mental health issues, a topic that was once taboo to speak publicly about. “Two things make it easier to speak about difficult subjects: humor and distance — qualities that memes naturally provide,” writes Wendy Syfret. So couldn’t you say that a high-end fashion house using memes (particularly those with the #TFW theme) is slightly pandering?
Not all of these marketed memes are bad. A few are actually great, but most make me think that when a #TFWGucci meme goes live, a dancing corgi, awkward seal or croc-humping turtle dies. This one by @cabbagecatmemes was a pretty safe, likable bet, while this meme by @meatwreck felt a little too on the nose. And although @checking_invoices stayed true to the art collective’s internet aesthetic, the amount of Gucci branding screams #sponcon. Yes, this is too Gucci — even for us Gucci stans.
The trickle-down effect is bound to happen in the fashion and beauty marketing world. Soon we may see sloths modeling Old Navy fleece and flip-flops. (Side note: Has anyone seen this Allure video of Kendall Jenner with a sloth? I mean, come on!) Or maybe Sephora doing its own take of “100 Layers of Foundation.” Other luxury brands may follow suit, or perhaps have already: Dolce & Gabbana devoted a large part of its runway show budget to casting influential millennials — an Instabait-y strategy that may not have worked. If anything, we expected Alexander Wang to come up with this type of campaign for his own namesake brand, since he’s already an avid fan and curator of dank memes on Instagram.
When big businesses try to attract younger customers (we see you, Gen Z) in order to make a profit, it comes off as cringe-worthy, awkward and, to be honest, a lot less fun. Take one of Matheson’s #TFWGucci memes for example. His original “Gucci” starter pack was replaced with a few corporate-friendly elements and a big ol’ Le Marché des Merveilles watch smack dab in the middle of the meme. That feels a little contrived for the sake of marketing, doesn’t it? And if you have to explain what a “starter pack” is to your customers, then what demographic are you trying to appeal to, anyway? Probably one that can’t easily afford a Gucci watch from an Instagram post, tbh.
Gucci, you’re already hip. You don’t need to try to kick it with the cool kids via a buttload of business-driven memes in an attempt to go viral. You are not Steve Buscemi from “30 Rock.”
So what’s next? Dressing Russell Got Barrz in a Gucci logo tee for his next dance video? Salt Bae seasoning a steak in a pair of Gucci loafers? Having Jared Leto hug a tree in a new Gucci ad campaign? Okay, if you take that last idea, you need to speak to us ASAP. That’s our meme and we want to make bank, too.