Inside MSCHF’s Viral Branding Strategy
How Satire Took Over Art & Fashion and How Brands Can Keep Up
In late July, a microscopic Louis Vuitton bag measuring .03 inches wide sold at auction on Pharrell’s JOOPITER marketplace for $63,000. Streetwear fans and the art crowd knew instantly it was the work of art collective MSCHF, the masterminds behind copious controversial marketing activations around pop culture. MSCHF, short for miscellaneous mischief, gained critical appeal through its absurd, yet admirably creative products and activations. Their artwork and products often go to auction fetching upwards of six-figures but they also have more attainable products. A few inflection points for the brand include the Lil Nas X Satan Shoes, Severed Spots featuring Damien Hirst’s artwork, the ATM at Frieze art fair, and most notably, the Big Red Boot, who’s new model was just announced earlier this week featuring Paris Hilton. Each of these activations offer a unique perspective into the virality of content and how to engage multiple communities at once but all reveal an important insight into modern branding: in order to stay relevant, brands need to lean into jokes and satire.
Part of the success of MSCHF is that they are an art collective and not a ‘brand.’ By immediately having the association with blue chip art and editorial features in the art world, it adds an air of fun and excitement to an otherwise legacy industry from the outside. We’ve seen this branding approach from several emerging brands, branding as a studio vs a brand. Branding like this creates the opportunity to challenge stereotypes and notions about an industry by easily inserting your own point of view through design and clever branding. In 2020, the collective bought a spot print from iconic artist Damien Hirst and cut up each individual spot and sold all 88 spots at $480 each (which then proceeded to sell at secondary markets for up to $3.5k each). From purely a media perspective, most audiences would be interested in an anonymous art collective tampering with blue chip art and selling it as their own. The concept itself was made to garner press and attention and get us thinking about the true definition of art.
Satire is not a new concept in the art and fashion world. Between the leather brown shopping bag from Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga’s Lays Chips bag, many brands have quirky takes on luxury, but why does MSCHF consistently go viral and fetch so much at auction? The simple answer is community activation.
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