Before Covid-19, it was common practice for brands to mark the launch of new collections, store openings and other major moments with big, splashy parties. It wasn’t just for the sake of having a good time. Decadent events attended by prominent influencers and celebrities served as marketing megaphones, drawing consumers’ attention to brands’ latest endeavours. But as brands shifted to virtual events during the pandemic, they realised it wasn’t easy to replicate that effect online.
ne. In theory, virtual events can reach far more people and have a much bigger impact than in-person events, but in practice, they don’t seem to carry quite the same oomph. That is, until yesterday, when H&M marked the launch of a new collaboration with luxury designer Simone Rocha with a limited-edition pop-up book featuring over a dozen actors, dancers, models and musicians, including Helena Bonham Carter and Kaia Gerber, who spring to life from the page to model the collection with the help of augmented reality (AR). “This is one of the most innovative collection events we have ever created here at H&M,” Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M’s creative advisor said about the launch. “It’s a very new take on a fashion party or runway show!” Simone Rocha said she was “thrilled” to be able to celebrate her collaboration with H&M in such an innovative way, “using the best AR technology to bring such an amazing cast of characters right into people’s homes”. Marketing experts have called the experience one of the best examples of a virtual event done well during Covid. Brand and digital consultant Saskia Fairfull said it was the first one she’s come across that has incorporated AR, but she believes we’ll be seeing much more of it in future. “As brands get more savvy with technology, immersive experiences, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and direct to avatar, will become popular marketing channels,” Fairfull told Inside Retail. Helena Bonham Carter was one of more than a dozen celebrities featured in the pop-up book. Image: Supplied Delivering the ‘wow’ factor To recreate the connection and engagement of a physical event in a digital or blended environment is an “art form”, Fairfull said. “On the technical side, viewers can experience issues with connectivity, lagging during streaming events, even platform performance problems with too many people trying to access the website at once.” And while it might be tempting to use cutting-edge technology to deliver the ‘wow’ factor, Fairfull cautions against it. Two of the best virtual events she’s seen in the last year leveraged existing technology and platforms. One of them was the virtual runway that Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba delivered in 2020, which showed the latest collection from her label Hanifa on Instagram in 3D. “It made news around the world as an example of what a post-pandemic virtual fashion runway show could look like,” Fairfull said. The other was Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2021 runway, which the fashion label livestreamed on Twitch. Videographers and camera rigs followed models as they walked the runway providing a close-up look at the collection, while some of the models carried selfie sticks to capture raw footage as they walked around. “During the live shows on Twitch, viewers could interact and chat in the window as if they were physically sitting next to their friends and colleagues at a runway show,” Fairfull said. “These digital experiences are memorable because it wasn’t about creating something new to connect with their audience.” Fairfull pointed out that Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat already have AR filters built into their platform, which brands can use to capture user-generated content. “[A]s we’ve seen and even participated in, people enjoy the opportunity to be part of a conversation, voice their alliances and access unique interactive content,” she said. For instance, Harry Styles inspired thousands of people to take up knitting after he was seen wearing a particularly colourful chunky cardigan by JW Anderson last year. The Northern Irish designer even released the pattern to help fans make their own version at home, and the hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan ended up generating more than 45 million views on TikTok. “There’s a huge opportunity for brands to be very creative … and look broadly at their ecosystem for potential collaborations that hit the right notes with their collective audiences,” Fairfull said.