Memes have officially eclipsed the bounds of internet ephemera. No longer confined to the bowels of Reddit and 4Chan, the meme has emerged as a universal language we can all understand, appreciate and enjoy. More pertinently, it’s a cultural currency that marketing teams are scrambling to cash in on.
The recent unveiling of Gucci’s #TFWGucci campaign, beyond a genius marketing effort, was a solid affirmation of the cross-cultural dominance of meme culture and a progressive demonstration in how memes can be optimized to sell product.
So, what is the #TFWGucci campaign exactly? It's a meme-inspired campaign to promote a new collection of luxury watches, dubbed "#TFWGucci" — as in "That Feeling When," the brand clarified in a press release. Alessandro Michele, GUCCI's creative director, tapped a host of artists, photographers, meme-makers, writers and theorists to realize these Gucci memes, and as expected, everyone lost it.
The corporate cannibalization of meme culture is hardly surprising given our collective propensity for procrastination and our unapologetic addiction to our iPhones, right? Not to mention that in 2016, memes were googled more than God. Basically, we all #relate to memes more than we do to other human beings.
Gucci’s #TFWGucci campaign was utter marketing brilliance, but many on the internet also felt it was soulless corporate appropriation.
It’s not overzealous to be concerned by brands exploiting the language of the youth, especially given the countless time fashion brands and designers come under fire for thoughtless cultural appropriation. Not to mention the ongoing saga of fashion giants such as Zara fighting accusations of ripping off young independent artists.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that Gucci has made sure its cadre of collaborators have all been credited, paid and celebrated throughout the campaign’s run, unlike Zara blatantly lifting a design from an emerging designer, for example.
Furthermore, #TFWGucci can also be considered a sensical and sequential move in Gucci’s recent trajectory of advertising. Alessandro Michele has long demonstrated a sincere and progressive appreciation of internet-born, outsider art movements during his tenure at the storied Italian fashion house.
Back in 2015, Michele launched #GucciGram, and he invited 31 international artists including Amalia Ulman, Ryder Ripps, Ed Fornieles and Claudia Mate for a remix art project to celebrate his Gucci Blooms and Gucci Caleido prints. Since his appointment, Michele has used Gucci's Instagram as a hyper-focused vehicle of his new aesthetic direction.
On a surface level, the #GucciGram campaign was yet another mutual exchange of cultural capital between the art and fashion industries, but Michele actually chose emerging artists working to find their voice in digital media. Arguably, at the time, the complicated genre of “Post-internet art” that encapsulates much of these artists' work was still fighting to be canonized too, so Gucci probably wasn’t counting on their star-power, but their rising cultural cache.
Similarly, the meme-makers tapped by Gucci for #TFWGucci are a diverse crop of global Millennials and Gen X-ers who have gained cult internet status for their use of memes to connect with peers about real-life issues from mental health to social inequality.
But the question remains: did Gucci’s valiant embrace of Instagram memes actually pay off in terms of engagement? According to visual intelligence platform Dash Hudson, it sure did. Here are the stats below.
TOTAL REACH: 120,089,317 TOTAL LIKES: 1,986,005 TOTAL COMMENTS: 21,780 AVG. ENGAGEMENT RATE OF ALL 30 MEMES: 0.5%
While the 0.5% average engagement rate of the memes Instagram posts is seemingly low, it's higher than Gucci’s total average of engagement, which currently sits at 0.41% — and that’s not an unusual number in the luxury sector. So, this means that this #TFWGucci actually outperformed all of Gucci's previous content. The fact that two of the memes from the campaign are now Gucci’s top 2 most engaged Instagram posts of all time proves #TFWGucci was a resounding success.
So, do you think Gucci simply appropriated meme culture or was the campaign an authentic lens on an emerging cultural discourse born on the internet? We’ve rounded up our favorite memes from the campaign. Let us know if you’re salty or sweet about #TFWGucci in the comments below.
The “Gucci” Starter Pack
@Youvegotnomale’s “starter pack” memes are ahead of the rest. For those who don't know, the "starter pack" is a meme in which its maker will take aim at a particular target, whether it’s a fleeting fashion trend or a typology of person, with a group of carefully selected images.
For the #TFWGucci campaign, Sebastian Tribbie takes on Gucci and ridicules the brand’s most recognizable hallmarks — like embroidery, patches, and '70s glasses — and it’s all hilarious.
Me Vs. the Guy She Told You Not to Worry About
The “guy she says I shouldn’t worry about” gag has become infamous on the meme-sphere, so it was an intelligent swipe for Gucci's campaign, especially because it’s all about selling Gucci's Les Marché Des Merveilles watch collection. The "guy" is replaced by Gucci’s watch, and John Trulli, of @cabbagepatchmemes, compares himself to a sad and sorry looking plastic timepiece, juxtaposed next to Gucci’s regal looking chronometer.
The Arthur “Fist” Meme
The internet has absolutely zero chill when it comes to gleefully destroying your childhood. For those grew up with Arthur, a ‘90s cartoon about an aardvark offering virtuous life lessons, you will no doubt recognize Arthur's iconic yellow sweater and his clenched fist. The visual has long has been repurposed by the internet’s memesmiths into a diverse array of situations to illustrate a compendium of negative feelings from frustration to angst to hurt.
Gucci tapped New York-based photographer Benjamin Langford to reinterpret the meme through his own lens, and it’s honestly wonderful to see how far you can force the meme-shaped envelope to promote a watch.
When Bae is Mad
Another familiar meme format that communicates exactly what you do when your boo is mad at you is nonchalantly repurposed by Gucci. The brand tapped Christto and Andrew, an artist duo from Puerto Rico and South Africa but based in Qatar, to lend their particular flavor of bold aesthetic compositions. The resulting meme is a feat of excellence.
Me & Also Me
You probably all know the meme that makes you say "me but also me". It’s a meme to reflect the age-old tale of fighting your inner demons and angels when it comes to making difficult choices.
Montreal's dank memestress @GothShakira takes on the meme and inserts the watch as a marker to illustrate our generation’s thirst for individuality, yet subliminal desire to always fit in and feel affirmed by everyone around us. Yep, "me but also me".
#Tag #for #Likes
New-York based Taiwanese artist John Yuyi gained notoriety for applying a temporary tattoo of her Facebook profile to her face, all in an effort to illustrate society’s complex relationship with social media. For #TFWGucci, she takes on the Insta-based ritual of tagging everything and everyone ever, a strategy used to rack up those likes and followers and it's a savage takedown of our vacuous relationships with social media platforms.
Accessorize Your Existentialist Crisis, Always
This is truly a banger of a meme, where Gucci paired @textsfromyourexistentialist with LA-based artist and photographer Amanda Charchian to aestheticize Gucci’s new watch with some very relatable treatment. We’re all sometimes a little guilty of laying on the #extra behavior good and thick, and this example of dressing to the nines on a trip to the gym, all in an effort to avoid your other whirlpool of other problems is a daily strategy employed by all.
Glamorously Failing at Responsible Adulthood
@Pollynor draws women and their demons and her humorous brand of angsty illustrations take on loaded subjects like societal sexism. Naturally, her wondrous meme for Gucci takes aim at our generation's botched attempts at responsible “adulting". Basically, we're all doomed to fail because we simply can't deny the decadent fruits of commodity culture.
Want more memes? Here are the best fashion meme accounts to follow right now.