Having posted losses since 2014, the beleaguered Italian fashion label is now on the road to recovery with a brand new creative identity and marketing strategy.

 

Over the last decade, the perception of Prada in China hasn’t progressed much from the image portrayed by Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in iconic 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada. More often than not, the brand is associated with sharp-dressing women (Chinese consumers even refer to the iconic Prada Galleria bag as “the killer bag (杀手包)” ), and seen as a form of “corporate luxury”. While this worked well with the generation before and elevated the brand to its standing as a coveted status symbol, young, streetwear-loving Chinese millennials found it difficult to identify with the seemingly straight-laced Milanese label. By 2014, the once venerable fashion powerhouse saw its profits falling, and efforts to resuscitate sales were in vain. Until now.

 

The 2018 Digital Competitive Map shows Prada’s position above average in the digital customer experience section.
Image: Contactlab & Exane BNP Paribas

 

Armed with a refreshed take on both designs and storytelling, Prada is making a comeback – especially in China. Revenues in the first six months of this year were up 9.4 percent at constant exchange rates year-on-year, with net income rising 10.7 percent to 105.7 million euros ($123.4 million) ­– the brand’s first rebound in 4 years. The Digital Competitive Map issued by Exane BNP Paribas also pointed out Prada’s digital customer experience improved in 2018. Besides modernizing its product mix, like including more sneaker products to cater to its younger audience, the Italian label also made bold moves in terms of storytelling to appeal to today’s digitally-savvy Chinese consumers. Its progress on Chinese social media proved that staying modern doesn’t mean enforcing brand exclusivity. Here are the brand’s recent digital highlights in China:

 

Film "The Delivery Man"

Prada’s current campaign “The Delivery Man”, directed by Ryan Hope, promotes the brand’s remade classic: The Cahier. Featuring separate stories set in a nightclub, a villa, and house dinner party, the 3-clip film showcases the shared surprise of very different women receiving the Cahier bag from a deliveryman. With its polished imagery and crisp rhythm, the campaign feels more a film-festival-worthy production than an Instagram clip that consumers are familiar with these days.

Chinese netizens reacted favorably to the campaign, complimenting the way in which the women were portrayed, as well as the star of the short: The Cahier. While reviewing this recent campaign, several WeChat-based fashion media also brought up Prada’s past cinematic campaigns such as 2015’s “Postman dreams”. Social sentiment generally grew more positive as people started to embrace Prada’s artsy cool image, which felt particularly refreshing at a time where luxury brands tend to come across as “trying too hard”.

In July, Dior’s  Saddle Bag campaign in China was negatively received and resulted in a PR setback for the brand. More recently in November, Louis Vuitton’s surprise announcement of Chinese rapper and actor Kris Wu as its new ambassador also spurred controversy. In both cases, Chinese consumers felt that the marketing decisions made by these brands were inconsistent with their brand image. Shoppers were looking for something different yet consistent with a brand's image – a fresh take on a classic luxury product – and The Delivery Man, well, delivered. 

Although the campaign’s commercial results are difficult to quantify, Prada has earned massive respect among China’s fashion crowd for maintaining its standards in an industry where brands seem to be increasingly pandering to audiences.

 

The shooting of “The Delivery Man”
Image: Prada

 

The Delivery Man’s Hollywood-based story “Women’s best friends” features the casually styled actress Sasha Lane.
Image: Prada

 

Authentic Influencer Collaborations
 

The power of Chinese influencers is no news to luxury brands. Although brand collaboration is common, an authentic combination of the influencer’s natural voice and the brand essence is still rare. In October, Chinese lifestyle account GQLab (GQ实验室) and fashion personality BuyerKey (买手君) both have published genuinely funny stories about the Cahier with direct links to Prada’s website. Unlike the typical sponsored post that comes across as rather contrived and similar to each other, these Cahier stories felt true to the influencers’ distinct personas.

On 22 October, WeChat-based lifestyle account GQLab published a post titled “A Modern Crush Story,” which was essentially a comic strip of a man stalking his crush on social media. Highly well-received, the post garnered more than 10,000 views. Told through screenshots of the WeChat Moments posts of a man’s love interest and his reactions to each of them, the article also included mentions of Prada and its new Cahier bag throughout the story. The comic strip ends with the man deciding to purchase the bag for his love interest as a surprise, with a link to Prada’s official Cahier page. It also contains a link to GQ’s previous story that talked about Prada’s temporary Linea Rossa store in Shanghai.

 

GQ Lab’s post “Modern crush is spying on her WeChat moments”
Images: GQ Lab

 

A week later, WeChat-based fashion personality Buyerkey, known for her online record of selling 52 Loewe bags in one second, also published a post titled “Oscar Actor Has A Package For Me”. Buyerkey’s main followers are luxury-savvy females, so her take on the story has a more sexy spin to it, showcasing Prada’s handsome male models and juicy celeb gossip. The female-oriented social post, though promoting the same Cahier collection, was very different from GQLab’s story.  
 

Buyerkey’s post “Oscar Actor Has A Package For Me”
Images: Buyerkey

 

Prada is not the first luxury brand to collaborate with influencers, but it might be one of the few luxury icons that grant more creative freedom to influencers. Both GQLab and Buyerkey managed to give Prada a modern edge, while still creating relatable content for their fans.

 

Restoring Heritage Spaces

Prada has long been associated with traditional heritage and artistic ambition, concepts that the millennial generation might feel largely indifferent towards. Prada Rong Zhai, an early 20th century mansion in central Shanghai restored by the Prada foundation, shows that heritage can now be hip too.

Since Rong Zhai’s opening in October 2017, visits to this architectural gem are allowed by appointment only (it can be booked via WeChat). This creates an air of exclusivity around the former residence. In September 2018, Prada Rong Zhai served as a two-week temporary store for the Linea Rossa collection. Because of the event and space’s exclusivity, the Linea Rossa temporary store quickly came the talk of China’s fashion elite. By making Rong Zhai, a symbol of the brand’s love for heritage, a premium commercial space for China’s most-savvy fashionistas, Prada found yet another classy way to stay relevant.

 

Prada’s Linea Rossa temporary store in Rong Zhai.
Image: Prada’s Official Weibo Account

 

Prada’s new digital and creative strategy in China might still be in its early stages, but reactions have been largely positive as millennials remain receptive to its new narrative. If anything, the rise and fall of Prada further emphasizes the need for luxury brands to constantly reinvent themselves and stay relevant. Millennials are known for their endless search for meaning, and this notion manifests itself in the way they shop as well. A brand can have a great heritage product that has done well for decades, but without a relatable narrative behind it, this same item will soon fall out of favor with millennials. Millennials aren’t just looking to buy products – they want to buy the entire brand story, too.

 

Cover Image: Pinterest


About the author

Jiaqi Luo

Born and raised in Shenzhen, Jiaqi moved to Milan in 2017 after studying art history in the United States. She writes about Chinese millennial's luxury consumption and evolving taste. As a member of China's post-90s generation, she also covers how luxury marketing reflects social changes.