Are Instagram Curators the New Influencers? RIMOWA Thinks So

Over the weekend, while sitting at a local breakfast place, I saw Instagram account @liljupiterr — known for his highly curated feed of new, and archival, sneakers and style, key pop culture moments, visually striking artworks, and viral videos — posted his first (ever?) caption on the platform. Broadcasted to his 624.000 followers which include Drake, Sean Wotherspoon and Jerry Lorenzo, @liljupiterr simply said “NEON” while going on to credit the creative team of the image he posted that showed a model dressed in green holding a transparent neon green RIMOWA suitcase.

The next day I saw @90sanxiety — at 1.9 million followers, it’s one of the most popular Instagram curation accounts— credit the same team (photographer Carlijn Jacobs, stylist Imruh Asha, and creative director Yannis Henrion). This time, a female model held that same suitcase in neon pink and a neon green phone case in RIMOWA’s signature ribbed texture. Then there was the same suitcase, this time with a giant snake on @welcome.jpeg, scroll, pink phone case held by an overly bedazzled hand model on @silk90s, scroll, the same model now holding both colored suitcases on @somewheremagazine, scroll, phone case and model close up on @simplicityarchives. Hold it there.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CRHBCVABhrg/

Why are all my favorite curation accounts on Instagram being hijacked by a heritage German brand known for… suitcases? Well, less hijacked, more strategic targeting, a RIMOWA spokesperson tells me, adding that none of the accounts were enlisted in a paid partnership programme and were simply reached out to with the ask to freely participate, if of interest, in this marketing experiment which marks a bigger shift in the way heritage luxury brands think about the power of internet culture and how cultural influence is created. Most agreed. I called up Yannis Henrion, RIMOWA’s Senior Global Creative who spearheaded the guerrilla marketing campaign, to ask him, why?

Christopher Morency: Yannis, maybe we just start with this question: why popular Instagram curation accounts?

Yannis Henrion: The way we try to build our campaigns is by maximizing the touchpoints we have. So it’s not like we just create visuals and campaigns that we put media [marketing] behind. How can we start making interesting campaigns that cover different targets with different content? That’s not something we were [thinking about] at all [in the past]. [Instagram curation accounts] often recycle content but never get content from the brands as first ones. We decided to do something exclusively created for them. We’re a giant brand and at the end of the day we make suitcases that are a blank canvas, so instead of just using our platform [for messaging] we wanted to work with those where these different audiences are. We wanted to go as broad as possible while staying niche. I think we’ll keep doing it, just to expand our horizons.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ_W7vbrYle/

Christopher: It’s an interesting approach. What do these accounts represent in your view?

Yannis: They have the ability to take a product out of its context and go deeper into it. If you want your product to be more elevated and timeless it’s the goal to have your product on their accounts because it has the validation of creators. We wanted it to be organic, so we didn’t force anyone to do it or anything but we gave them options on [different] images that they could post and if they wanted to post it was completely up to them.

Christopher: These accounts are becoming increasingly influential where even for me, someone who is often among the first people to receive news with my job, I often find out about leaks via these accounts first. They’ve become a source for both what’s cool and now, for what’s new. How does that mindset fit with RIMOWA, a heritage house?

Yannis: There will always be stuff for the core RIMOWA [audience], we’ll always have product-porn stuff with details etc. But what I’ve been pitching a lot is around this new audience, that we get through these collaborations of our icons. We’ve been doing two exercises to [acquire] them. One, we keep teaching people about our heritage and why you can be modern as a heritage brand. The other one, is about introducing people who come to us through the Supreme and Off-White [collaborations], but who we don’t address so often. Something that’s very true to RIMOWA’s DNA is that it’s always been a brand for insiders and those in-the-know. So instead of blasting about ourselves where it becomes vain, we’d rather talk [through] the cool accounts that do things for this community well. Young people don’t want to always engage with [brand-owned channels] that have endless floods of products. They want to see something that’s already being created, so to get the approval from these curator accounts is a good way to keep the conversation going.

Carlijn Jacobs
Carlijn Jacobs

Christopher: I always say that brands need to create universes beyond the product. So it’s about who you endorse, who endorses you, what your tone of voice is, where you pop up, who the creative team around you is, the collaborations, and now working with curator accounts. Why is that becoming more important as a brand to think that way?

Yannis: If you want to be a cultural brand, you need to be aware of what’s happening. So you shouldn’t just have conversations with big media platforms but also newer ones that are part of the bigger conversation around fashion and lifestyle. They deserve dedicated assets, products, and stories. The way we approach content is often through commissions with artists, and photographers because we want to have as many points of view as possible. With a [neon] product like this, which is meant to be more targeted towards a younger audience, it’s super interesting for me to sit with my team and ask ourselves where we go to consume content ourselves. And these creative [curation] accounts are the new influencers because they’re authentic in their approach, they’re very specific in terms of style and aesthetic, and they don’t care.

Christopher: For Highsnobiety we wrote a white paper last year with Boston Consulting Group called ‘Culture, Culture, Culture’ and in it, one of the big takeaways was about the power of non-brand controlled channels, so the channels that aren’t owned by brands directly like their social pages, or stores, or even paid advertising with media. So when people talk and promote your brand without too much of the brand’s interference. But where is that line? Between guiding people to talk authentically about your brand without directing them too much?

Yannis: It’s about reversing the balance. With the images for example, you would usually have a person picking the images, and do commercial shoots where the priority is on the product and no matter how cool the styling or model is, the main focus always needs to be on the product. When we worked on this shoot we wanted to do it a different way, more editorial with different characters where the product could be part of the story without overpowering the characters. You start noticing products in the image [as an audience] which is the goal. Like said, it’s radically different from the content we usually produce. People themselves have to do the exercise of looking for the actual product and going to our website as there is no direct call to action. We didn’t give any mandatory captions the curation accounts should use for example and there’s little information about when it’s available [or price]. It’s more interesting when you need to do the research yourself, it makes the process more enriching. [However] if they see an image and they think it’s just a cool image, that’s amazing as well as sometimes something doesn’t have to drive sales, it can be that you [give them the feeling] that they belong to a cool community.

Carlijn Jacobs
Carlijn Jacobs

Christopher: What’s something you’ve learned from taking this content-first approach to product?

Yannis: That every touchpoint is relevant. For instance, we work with agencies whenever we work with photographers and they always want a brief and very specific guidelines. [But] we tell them they should do whatever they want for what works with an audience. We have such a recognizable but simple product, so it’s about reinventing each time instead of pushing one vision. We’re one of the rare and lucky brands where we don’t have to keep on repeating the same content strategy, [whereas] we have a carte blanche.

Christopher: What do you think brands should understand about internet culture and how that relates to image-making and marketing today?

Yannis: I would say just spend time doing basic things like talking to your friends and asking them how they spend their time-consuming content. Someone might send you something from a platform that you didn’t expect, and you should then think about what you can do with that platform. Don’t do it for the achievement of working with a big title but think about where your audience is and what they’re doing on the daily. Are they spending time on TikTok? Oke, but what creators do they follow? You might be surprised.