What does a luggage brand, whose entire value proposition is built around travel, do when a pandemic hits, and both global and local travel is halted completely?

It improvises.

“We had to [indeed] reconsider what our campaign was going to be now that we knew that the world was never going to be the same after the crisis,” says Emelie De Vitis, Chief Marketing Officer at Rimowa.

Now, what happens when the world comes to a stop, and you’re a global figure whose day-to-day life is spent in a permanent state of transit, living from a suitcase? That’s exactly how the legacy LVMH-owned travel goods business solved its problem; or at least, it’s a first step in what is a global new campaign — titled “Never Still” — featuring Rihanna, LeBron James, 20-time Grand-Slam-winning athlete Roger Federer, and multidisciplinary artist Patti Smith, whose newfound approach to travel is intimately showcased for Rimowa.

Across four short-format films, snapshots — including home footage — of the lives of the icons are on display, as we get an intimate look at what travel has historically meant to each of them, and how they’re redefining it. In the master video, in which the four films are brought together — narrated by Patti Smith and scored by Jamie xx — the overall message is made clear: “No one builds a legacy standing still.”

“Travel as we knew it is over. Now it’s not about how far you go, but why you go. And who you bring along for the ride,” James says in his reflective film.

And just like that, product is humanized. We’ve seen a straightforward suitcase evolve into a product imbued with personality, literally displaying where one has been. We see ourselves in the story, where it relates to how we ourselves travel. Marketing done right.

I called Rimowa’s Emelie De Vitis, and asked her about that exact plan coming to mind early 2020, and whether the business can finally reap the fruits now that global exploration is back on the table, and the company’s ambition to evolve into a “mobility brand” can be put to the test.

Christopher Morency: I want to reflect on the past 18 months. When you’re used to marketing around travel, where do you even start when everything falls still? Emilie De Vitis: I joined in January 2020. I think it was probably at the peak of our business [when] everything was looking super rosy. Back then, we were planning on working with our ongoing ambassadors, LeBron James and Roger Federer, as we love to build long-term stories. We managed to get away with them just before the pandemic, but we've had to adapt to how the shooting was taking place, and also the narrative. But as you said, we’re a travel brand, that’s what we’re experts and leaders in. And at some point, it was a complete standstill. So how does a brand like ours express what it stands for when no one can travel? We knew the world was never going to be the same after this crisis, so let’s reconsider what our campaign is going to be.

Morency: So what changed along the way? De Vitis: If I think about LeBron, for instance — he shared with us some footage of his youth. We decided to really talk more about his personal situation during Covid, as well as his foundation and all the things that were so important to him, which might not have featured so prominently before Covid. If I think about Roger, we decided to focus on his very close proximity. Again, that might not have been our angle before the pandemic, where we were probably more thinking about the Roger that would travel around the world. Then with Rihanna, how often do you get to see her intimate environment? And the beauty with the campaign was that we had time.

Morency: Beyond the giant fan bases these four figures have, why did you opt for them, specifically? De Vitis: It [really] wasn’t a big strategic plan. It was more about thinking how powerful it would be to have someone like Patti Smith’s point of view as she’s been using Rimowa since 1995 and she’s what we call a traveler with purpose. For Rihanna, again, someone we know who was using our products and is always traveling. We wanted to know how someone like her stands still for over six months. What I think is key is that all of them said they probably won’t travel the same way as before.

Morency: Can you name an example? De Vitis: Rihanna was based in LA for all those months that she couldn’t travel. She owns an Airstream, not the one you see in the film, but it was her idea, as she told us that this is what she’s been doing, even before the pandemic — going on these road trips. So she actually came up with her own idea as she had the time.

Morency: When I tie it back to the product, what’s interesting is that you’re positioning it as a product never just being a product. It’s lived in, it represents something. There’s a reason you choose this product over that product, and in a way you humanize a lifeless thing. How do you think about these things at Rimowa? De Vitis: You're absolutely right. I was talking about Patti being a Rimowa user since the '90s and some of her cases have been traveling with her forever. They're covered in stickers. She has her tour lanyard and everything on them. They're like a travel companion. I think she's not someone who would do much commercial activity. The fact that she felt like it was a story she wanted to tell because Rimowa has played a part in her career and her journeys I think is something we definitely wanted to convey. We always say we provide tools for a lifetime of movement, and I think that’s really key. If you’re going to buy one of our products, it’s really going to take you to as many places as you want. And every little dent, every little scratch is a trip you’ve done to a certain place, and it’s going to remind you of whatever souvenir you had from that journey.

Morency: So how do you convey that beyond this big campaign? How do you get this personalized message across to everyday fans? De Vitis: I think this is truly our first campaign where we’re keen to have a two-way conversation and really get people thinking about the impact the pandemic has had on them and what they're going to change, keep, evolve, you name it. It's truly a universal question. I think there will probably be less futile travels but more travel for purpose.

Morency: How has that changed your thinking when it comes to product? De Vitis: You asked me earlier what changed for us. I think we’ve had to adapt pretty quickly, because at some point you couldn't do long distance travel, so you would look at more weekend getaways, short distance trips. And this is where we decided to extend our range and come up with more solutions for our clients that wanted to be able to look at different forms of travel. It's been a great catalyst of change for us in terms of our communication with our clients, as well as the willingness to accompany them on any form of journey.

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