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Viral Fashion Marketing, Social Media & Branding

(GUCCI ad that sparked conversations)

Original Publish: May 2010 — With the Web 3.0 concept, it appears that viral marketing via social interactions online is here to stay. Consumers are playing a greater role in determining whether a brand sinks or swims. After doing some careful research online about consumer trending and how it affects the fashion community and fashion marketing, I was able to gather some assumptions. Most major fashion brands have a Facebook fan page and maintain a Twitter presence because for now, online consumer conversations rule when it comes to events, sales and consumer trends. However, years ago, experts determined it took more than viral communication to build a brand, and the same holds true today.

According to Douglas B. Holt:

Viral branding assumes that consumers, not firms, have the most influence in the creation of brands. Cynical consumers will no longer heed the missives of mass marketers, and instead must “discover” brands on their own. The Internet provides a means to accelerate this discovery. As a result, what was once considered an important process that marketers might want to stimulate has now often become an end in itself.

In his article “The Problem with Viral Branding”, Douglas explains that basing a brand’s core marketing strategy on viral marketing can be self-defeating and lead to the brand’s premature death. I do agree with this theory in some capacity; though Viral Marketing and Branding is great for complementing an otherwise strong marketing mix, to rely solely on viral marketing can create a faddish idea of the brand with little brand equity to back it up.  Success depends on the brand’s exit strategy: if a brand grows overnight due to explosive consumer demand triggered by viral marketing, then it is to be expected that the product lifecycle will shorten.  A wise marketer will take note and exit earlier.

In terms of building brands with strong longstanding consumer demand and iconic sustainability, it’s important to understand the role viral or social media marketing plays. After all, successful viral brands are ones that overlap their online messages to consumers with even more powerful communication from the brand. It’s important for fashion marketers not to get caught up in the social element of marketing. Though it can work in a brand’s favor during the upward slope of the product lifecycle, it can also work against the brand’s core competencies on the downward slope. If a brand is completely dependent upon the viral marketing component of P.R. and advertising and refuses to overlap more traditional channels and brand driven messages, the brand can become stifled by consumer driven messages and fluctuating demand. It’s important that brands remain in control of advertising messages and drive interest from the top down, not from the bottom up. If a brand relies too heavily on consumer messaging, it may cause dilutions in brand equity and a lack of control overall brand image.


Brands are built on trust and consumer perception. It’s important to understand how social media can be used to pique consumer interest in a brand and help build trust via viral marketing. Equally important are traditional marketing mediums in maintaining market share and reinforcing brand credibility and appeal. Though traditional advertising has been abandoned by some brands in an effort to save costs, eventually, a balance between traditional and viral advertising will occur. Brand managers must understand social media, and substantiate their viral marketing campaigns with brand driven messages via traditional advertising and marketing. Social media has its place and is a great tool for public relations and gaining market share. However, in terms of retention, advertising is more reliable for maintaining marketing share.

Buzz marketing complements a well executed traditional marketing campaign, but if not effectively managed in terms of expectations, it can easily hinder a brand’s longstanding success.

I operate on the belief that marketing knowledge is transferable across industries. Since the same rules that apply to other sectors of marketing apply to the fashion realm, it’s important to understand the role publicity plays in a fashion brand’s marketing mix. Social media is a form of consumer driven communication and publicity for a brand—it should never be the only component of a brand’s marketing strategy.

I decided to share this knowledge with you after struggling with my own objectives for POSHGLAM and achieving its longstanding success. Hopefully you were able to gain some insight into my thoughts on branding and social media’s role in building brand equity.

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