The power of Love (Island): using cultural moments to shift perceptions

The power of Love (Island): using cultural moments to shift perceptions
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

At a time when even the most popular TV shows struggle to attract audiences of over 20 million, brands need to be creative, writes EssenceMediacom’s head of creative strategy.

Reaching younger audiences can be challenging for many brands: remaining relevant as their core audience grows older and new generations emerge is complex. Some companies are burdened by their reputation — what worked for millennials might not strike the right chord with Gen Z and be entirely off-tangent for Gen Alpha.

Others struggle with negative perceptions or lack of awareness about their offering or even the category they represent. To counter this and enforce their relevance, brands must find new ways to proactively change the conversation around their business and category.

No love for the pre-loved

Ebay is a global example of an iconic brand that found its niche, built a cult following and dominated the pre-used retail space for decades. It quickly established itself as the go-to marketplace for used clothing and other pre-loved items, especially amongst the thrifty, environmentally conscious consumers of the early 00s.

However, this market position, and the brand image that came with it, proved to be a big challenge for the company when trying to appeal to new markets. eBay had built its reputation on the message of selling and buying pre-used items, which did not resonate with the younger audiences.

In an era dominated by fast fashion, second-hand clothes were not cool and, worse, unfashionable. It needed to find a way to present its offering in a way that would set it on par with the fast fashion of high-street stores and highlight it as a gateway to cool, near-new branded clothing available for a fraction of the retail price.

Island style

To overcome this challenge and find a way to reinforce the brand image in a way that would attract younger people, eBay turned to the entertainment brand that had for years been the epitome of fast fashion – Love Island.

The contestants’ styles attract great attention amongst media and fans, and many launch their own fashion lines and collaborations with fast fashion brands such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing. This presented the perfect opportunity for a controversial collaboration, inserting eBay in the heart of the Love Island conversations and firmly on the radar of Gen Z and millennial viewers.

In a series-first, the summer 2022 instalment of the show saw eBay become Love Island’s first-ever pre-loved fashion partner. eBay provided the Islanders with a shared wardrobe of pre-loved clothes, introduced under the watchful eye of celebrity stylist Amy Bannerman. From the very first minutes of the show, pre-loved fashion lived and breathed every minute of the action.

The collaboration was a roaring success. Not only did it get eBay in front of young audiences in the positive context of an entertainment brand they love, but it also extended the conversation beyond TV, bringing it to life on social media and in the heart of popular culture, where the company had very little presence before.

The concept challenged not only the idea of what pre-loved stands for, but also people’s perception of Love Island as a herald for unsustainable, fast fashion. Breaking the tradition of promoting fast fashion brands when she exited the show, Tasha Ghouri — one of the most stylish Islanders and a fan favourite — chose to become a brand ambassador for eBay, launching a collection of her favourite second-hand items to inspire her fans to fall in love with pre-loved.

Shifting brand perceptions

This collaboration proves that culture is a powerful tool for steering conversations and changing brand perceptions. Embedding a brand into popular culture can get it front and centre of a new audience and build bridges into new conversations and markets.

So, how can brands use this approach to leverage the power of culture for a positive impact? Finding the right tension is key to enhancing the talkability aspect and getting the brand into conversations it would not normally feature in. Crucially, choose a tension that you are the answer to: in the case of eBay, fast fashion was the obvious problem, so leaning into its stronghold generated great talking points.

Next, capitalise on a multichannel moment. While Love Island is a TV show, its popularity is in large part down to its status as a  media phenomenon encompassing social media, news, and popular culture. eBay succeeded with its collaboration because it managed to live the partnership across all vital touchpoints in the new communications economy instead of focusing purely on the on-screen experience.

At a time when even the most popular TV shows struggle to attract audiences of over 20 million, brands need to be creative and optimise the multichannel approach to reach big audiences.

Taking control of the conversation

Brands should never underestimate the power of popular culture. It is a valuable resource for influencing brand perceptions, improving talkability, and opening doors to new audiences.

Brands that proactively look for ways to harness its power to their benefit are better positioned to engage with audiences they already know and reach new ones they want a share of.

Lindsey Jordan is head of creative strategy, creative futures UK at EssenceMediacom

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