The “hype economy” is a digital phenomenon that uses social media to fuel anticipation before the launch of new brands or products. Successful adoption of the technique can result in soaring sales, as businesses tantalise consumers with a drip-feed of information over days, weeks or even months. As the launch date nears and word spreads across cyber space, the hype becomes increasingly pronounced. But the process needs to be handled with care, to ensure that the initial excitement translates into long-term success. 

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Hyped up

Hyped up

The “hype economy” is a digital phenomenon that uses social media to fuel anticipation before the launch of new brands or products. Successful adoption of the technique can result in soaring sales, as businesses tantalise consumers with a drip-feed of information over days, weeks or even months. As the launch date nears and word spreads across cyber space, the hype becomes increasingly pronounced. But the process needs to be handled with care, to ensure that the initial excitement translates into long-term success. 

In January 2017, luxury brand Louis Vuitton unveiled an unexpected partnership with New York-based skate and streetwear brand Supreme. Runway observers went wild to see the iconic LV monogram joined with Supreme’s equally recognisable red box logo on everything from T-shirts (€390) to deluxe iPhone cases (up to €1,171).

But if this first glimpse caused a stir among fashion insiders, it caused a full-on uproar online, where social medial fans had already been driven wild about the possible collaboration.

The online hubbub was fanned, in part, by the social media activity of Louis Vuitton artistic director Kim Jones, who posted and then removed an image of the LV logo overlaid with a holographic Supreme logo. In response to this tease, fans of both brands flocked to websites – including the aptly named Hypebeast, which dissects trends in men’s fashion – to air their opinions, hopes, predictions and fears.

The hype continued months after the collection had been revealed. Fans lined up overnight for pop-up shops around the world and items from the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection flew off eBay, even at 200 per cent markups.

Telling a story 

GQ magazine dubbed it “the biggest collaboration in fashion history”, based on the sheer volume of online chatter. With traditional advertising, this kind of excitement could only be the wildest aspiration of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. But Supreme and Louis Vuitton figured out another way to get the same or even better results by exploiting the pure, potent power of hype. 

By now, it is standard practice for brands to cultivate a social media presence to attract customers, but the hype economy that Louis Vuitton and Supreme tapped into goes way beyond mere presence.

Hype is playful and dynamic. It relies on give and take, creating an active conversation between brands and consumers that is built on expectation and anticipation. Hype is built up through classic storytelling techniques, such as parcelling out information and cultivating mystery. Hype also feeds on itself. Once the seeds of hype are planted correctly, the crowd will build on it and perpetuate it, creating more questions, more controversy and more hype within their community. Eventually, if hype is done right, it will move out of the brand’s control and take on whatever shape the crowd has collectively moulded it into.

Get interactive

In a sense, hype is the polar opposite of “branded content”, which is a one-sided presentation by a business hoping to lure consumers with specific interests.  According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, branded content has increasingly lost its impact, especially among hyper-sceptical millennials – those born between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s.

Millennials rely more than any other group on online communities and conversation to direct their purchases. And they look askance at messaging that is too neatly packaged or branded. According to a report from Engagement Labs – which analyses word of mouth and social media data for Fortune 500 companies – 89 per cent of millennials trust peer reviews more than brands’ own claims. For this demographic, word of mouth is of premium importance. And hype is essentially a highly potent, modern and amplified form of word of mouth.

The “hype economy” has been particularly well exploited by luxury brands perhaps because this corner of the market already relies so much on online attention, with 40 per cent of consumers first interacting with top-end brands via social media channels. However, even non-luxury brands are keen to tap into the hype economy.

 

In January 2017, luxury brand Louis Vuitton unveiled an unexpected partnership with New York-based skate and streetwear brand Supreme. Runway observers went wild to see the iconic LV monogram joined with Supreme’s equally recognisable red box logo on everything from T-shirts (€390) to deluxe iPhone cases (up to €1,171).

But if this first glimpse caused a stir among fashion insiders, it caused a full-on uproar online, where social medial fans had already been driven wild about the possible collaboration.

The online hubbub was fanned, in part, by the social media activity of Louis Vuitton artistic director Kim Jones, who posted and then removed an image of the LV logo overlaid with a holographic Supreme logo. In response to this tease, fans of both brands flocked to websites – including the aptly named Hypebeast, which dissects trends in men’s fashion – to air their opinions, hopes, predictions and fears.

The hype continued months after the collection had been revealed. Fans lined up overnight for pop-up shops around the world and items from the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection flew off eBay, even at 200 per cent markups.

Telling a story 

GQ magazine dubbed it “the biggest collaboration in fashion history”, based on the sheer volume of online chatter. With traditional advertising, this kind of excitement could only be the wildest aspiration of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. But Supreme and Louis Vuitton figured out another way to get the same or even better results by exploiting the pure, potent power of hype. 

By now, it is standard practice for brands to cultivate a social media presence to attract customers, but the hype economy that Louis Vuitton and Supreme tapped into goes way beyond mere presence.

Hype is playful and dynamic. It relies on give and take, creating an active conversation between brands and consumers that is built on expectation and anticipation. Hype is built up through classic storytelling techniques, such as parcelling out information and cultivating mystery. Hype also feeds on itself. Once the seeds of hype are planted correctly, the crowd will build on it and perpetuate it, creating more questions, more controversy and more hype within their community. Eventually, if hype is done right, it will move out of the brand’s control and take on whatever shape the crowd has collectively moulded it into.

Get interactive

In a sense, hype is the polar opposite of “branded content”, which is a one-sided presentation by a business hoping to lure consumers with specific interests.  According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, branded content has increasingly lost its impact, especially among hyper-sceptical millennials – those born between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s.

Millennials rely more than any other group on online communities and conversation to direct their purchases. And they look askance at messaging that is too neatly packaged or branded. According to a report from Engagement Labs – which analyses word of mouth and social media data for Fortune 500 companies – 89 per cent of millennials trust peer reviews more than brands’ own claims. For this demographic, word of mouth is of premium importance. And hype is essentially a highly potent, modern and amplified form of word of mouth.

The “hype economy” has been particularly well exploited by luxury brands perhaps because this corner of the market already relies so much on online attention, with 40 per cent of consumers first interacting with top-end brands via social media channels. However, even non-luxury brands are keen to tap into the hype economy.

 
Make it seem real

While marketing in the hype economy can certainly have rewards, there are also potential pitfalls. Millennial consumers are notoriously adept at sniffing out disingenuous advertising and an ill-thought-out campaign that looks too targeted or leaves them feeling overly sold to can backfire. 

Take, for example, a recent campaign by Dior to market its iconic saddle bag, which was a hit in the 1990s, carried by the likes of Paris Hilton and Carrie Bradshaw from TV series Sex and the City. Bringing the emblematic purse back for 2018 seemed to have all the components for a Louis Vuitton x Supreme level of hype success, but the response to the Dior campaign was far less enthusiastic.

Taylor Lorenz, who covers influencer marketing for magazine The Atlantic, says Dior’s stumbling block was pushing its own product aggressively rather than creating the conditions for fans to generate their own excitement before it was unveiled.

Hothouse flower 

Dior’s strategy involved a mass outreach to Instagram influencers, who flooded their feeds with posed pictures with the bag and tagged them as #SponCon, a required hashtag for compensated influencer marketing. The result, Lorenz writes, was that Dior ended up looking disingenuous and “saturating the market”. She explains: “You don't want to see the same thing on your feed every two seconds; that's why people are constantly moving on from one thing to the next.”

The Dior misstep underscored the idea that hype is a hothouse flower. Too little and it won’t be meaningful. Too much and you’ll throw away all the rewards.

One way to gauge the appropriate level of social media hype is to start brand messaging early, but in small, subtle marketing pushes, targeted towards niche audiences and influencers with specific audiences.

Hype is playful and dynamic. It relies on give and take, creating an active conversation between brands and consumers that is built on expectation and anticipation” ​

Lose control

Hype campaigns sometimes need to be adjusted on the fly as well, so once the first seeds have been planted, brands should look at how conversations about their products or services are developing and whether there is forward momentum in the dialogue.

This doesn’t mean clamping down on controversy, though. Not everyone online was happy with the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration. Across the social media spectrum, there was also derision and complaints that both brands were losing their unique identities. But even this, not entirely positive hype, contributed to the overall edgy side of the story the brands were trying to tell. 

In the end, harnessing hype is about breaking through. That requires letting go of controlled expectations in order to come across as part of a genuine, expansive conversation 

Back to articles

Thanks to its collaboration with Supreme, Louis Vuitton now has a relationship with a new group of customers who might otherwise have been turned off by the brand’s standalone, staid image”​

Mission possible

Ford is one such business. Before bringing the Fiesta model into America’s subcompact car market, it launched a hype-driven campaign known as the “Ford Fiesta Movement”. The group gave 100 social-media influencers a European model of the car and asked them to complete “missions”, which they then documented on social media. The campaign earned the Fiesta 6.5 million views on YouTube, as young people became interested and invested in what mission would come next. When the car went public, the hype translated into early sales: 10,000 cars were snapped up in the first few days of availability.

But does hype always translate into long-term benefits? The very term seems to connote short-term advantages. And while most experts agree that hype delivers some value, there is an ongoing debate over whether that value is tangible or intangible, and short-term or long-term. 

According to a report updated for 2018 by New York-based MDG Advertising, 44 per cent of chief marketing officers struggle to measure the overall impact of social media on their businesses. And while 36 per cent of them say they have a general sense that their social media strategy is having an impact, they cannot relate it to solid figures.

Just a tool

Part of the challenge is that social media hype is just one aspect of a company’s strategy, so it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is driving sales. 

Jason Falls, a social media consultant and co-author of No Bullshit Social Media, says part of the problem can be that brands have outsize expectations. Speaking to business magazine Forbes about the return on investment of social media hype, he warned: “If you think social media will save your business or suddenly drive tons of people to love you, you’re going to be disappointed. Social media is a tool or channel. If your product or service sucks, it won’t save you. 

If you think social media is a fun and interesting new way to connect with customers, build relationships and serve your audience, you’ll probably not be disappointed.”

Sherry Gray, a journalist at trade publication Adweek who reports on social media hype, expands upon Falls’ idea, arguing that short-term sales may be the wrong place to look for a return on investment in hype. “There is far more at stake in social media than sales. When you use social media properly, you get to know potential customers, and they get to know you. You build trust and authority with your responses and build loyalty by getting personal (but not creepy). This may result in a sale today or years down the line,” she explains. 

Building brand awareness

Nicole Hernandez, a freelance marketer whose company advises luxury hotels on how to build hype to draw in young, Instagram-savvy consumers, says its value may be more appropriately gauged with an eye towards the long-term. “In most cases, social media hype may be more about building brand awareness than having an expectation for your immediate bottom line. It’s a long-tail building of something more than an immediate reward,” she says.

Louis Vuitton’s holding company, LVMH, for example, reported a 23 per cent profit increase in 2017. Sales from the Supreme collaboration undoubtedly played a part, but so did a number of other factors, including the company’s increased e-commerce efforts in Asia.

One indisputable outcome of the hype economy is that it draws in fresh eyes and an expanded demographic. Thanks to its  collaboration with Supreme, Louis Vuitton now has a relationship with a new group of customers who might otherwise have been turned off by the brand’s standalone, staid image.

Forty-four per cent of chief marketing officers say they struggle to measure the overall impact of social media on their businesses”​

Mission possible

Ford is one such business. Before bringing the Fiesta model into America’s subcompact car market, it launched a hype-driven campaign known as the “Ford Fiesta Movement”. The group gave 100 social-media influencers a European model of the car and asked them to complete “missions”, which they then documented on social media. The campaign earned the Fiesta 6.5 million views on YouTube, as young people became interested and invested in what mission would come next. When the car went public, the hype translated into early sales: 10,000 cars were snapped up in the first few days of availability.

But does hype always translate into long-term benefits? The very term seems to connote short-term advantages. And while most experts agree that hype delivers some value, there is an ongoing debate over whether that value is tangible or intangible, and short-term or long-term. 

According to a report updated for 2018 by New York-based MDG Advertising, 44 per cent of chief marketing officers struggle to measure the overall impact of social media on their businesses. And while 36 per cent of them say they have a general sense that their social media strategy is having an impact, they cannot relate it to solid figures.

Just a tool

Part of the challenge is that social media hype is just one aspect of a company’s strategy, so it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is driving sales. 

Jason Falls, a social media consultant and co-author of No Bullshit Social Media, says part of the problem can be that brands have outsize expectations. Speaking to business magazine Forbes about the return on investment of social media hype, he warned: “If you think social media will save your business or suddenly drive tons of people to love you, you’re going to be disappointed. Social media is a tool or channel. If your product or service sucks, it won’t save you. 

If you think social media is a fun and interesting new way to connect with customers, build relationships and serve your audience, you’ll probably not be disappointed.”

Sherry Gray, a journalist at trade publication Adweek who reports on social media hype, expands upon Falls’ idea, arguing that short-term sales may be the wrong place to look for a return on investment in hype. “There is far more at stake in social media than sales. When you use social media properly, you get to know potential customers, and they get to know you. You build trust and authority with your responses and build loyalty by getting personal (but not creepy). This may result in a sale today or years down the line,” she explains. 

Building brand awareness

Nicole Hernandez, a freelance marketer whose company advises luxury hotels on how to build hype to draw in young, Instagram-savvy consumers, says its value may be more appropriately gauged with an eye towards the long-term. “In most cases, social media hype may be more about building brand awareness than having an expectation for your immediate bottom line. It’s a long-tail building of something more than an immediate reward,” she says.

Louis Vuitton’s holding company, LVMH, for example, reported a 23 per cent profit increase in 2017. Sales from the Supreme collaboration undoubtedly played a part, but so did a number of other factors, including the company’s increased e-commerce efforts in Asia.

One indisputable outcome of the hype economy is that it draws in fresh eyes and an expanded demographic. Thanks to its  collaboration with Supreme, Louis Vuitton now has a relationship with a new group of customers who might otherwise have been turned off by the brand’s standalone, staid image.

Hype is playful and dynamic. It relies on give and take, creating an active conversation between brands and consumers that is built on expectation and anticipation”​

Lose control

Hype campaigns sometimes need to be adjusted on the fly as well, so once the first seeds have been planted, brands should look at how conversations about their products or services are developing and whether there is forward momentum in the dialogue.

This doesn’t mean clamping down on controversy, though. Not everyone online was happy with the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration. Across the social media spectrum, there was also derision and complaints that both brands were losing their unique identities. But even this, not entirely positive hype, contributed to the overall edgy side of the story the brands were trying to tell. 

In the end, harnessing hype is about breaking through. That requires letting go of controlled expectations in order to come across as part of a genuine, expansive conversation 

Back to articles

Make it seem real

While marketing in the hype economy can certainly have rewards, there are also potential pitfalls. Millennial consumers are notoriously adept at sniffing out disingenuous advertising and an ill-thought-out campaign that looks too targeted or leaves them feeling overly sold to can backfire. 

Take, for example, a recent campaign by Dior to market its iconic saddle bag, which was a hit in the 1990s, carried by the likes of Paris Hilton and Carrie Bradshaw from TV series Sex and the City. Bringing the emblematic purse back for 2018 seemed to have all the components for a Louis Vuitton x Supreme level of hype success, but the response to the Dior campaign was far less enthusiastic.

Taylor Lorenz, who covers influencer marketing for magazine The Atlantic, says Dior’s stumbling block was pushing its own product aggressively rather than creating the conditions for fans to generate their own excitement before it was unveiled.

Hothouse flower 

Dior’s strategy involved a mass outreach to Instagram influencers, who flooded their feeds with posed pictures with the bag and tagged them as #SponCon, a required hashtag for compensated influencer marketing. The result, Lorenz writes, was that Dior ended up looking disingenuous and “saturating the market”. She explains: “You don't want to see the same thing on your feed every two seconds; that's why people are constantly moving on from one thing to the next.”

The Dior misstep underscored the idea that hype is a hothouse flower. Too little and it won’t be meaningful. Too much and you’ll throw away all the rewards.

One way to gauge the appropriate level of social media hype is to start brand messaging early, but in small, subtle marketing pushes, targeted towards niche audiences and influencers with specific audiences.

Forty-four per cent of chief marketing officers say they struggle to measure the overall impact of social media on their businesses”​​

Thanks to its collaboration with Supreme, Louis Vuitton now has a relationship with a new group of customers who might otherwise have been turned off by the brand’s standalone, staid image”​​

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Bridgepoint  |  The Point  |  November 2018  |  Issue 34