top of page

Shock Advertising: Luxury Brand's New Marketing Strategy + Balenciaga's $925 Towel Skirt

by Samara Morris

Shock advertising is a type of advertising that deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends audiences by violating norms for social values and personal ideals. This form of advertising is often controversial, disturbing, explicit, and in some instances, racist. Both celebrities and luxury brands alike have adapted this method of advertising, but according to my research, it seems to have taken full swing when The Kardashians adopted it.

Image Credit: MEGA / Contributor / Getty Images

For years, fans and spectators have questioned the marketing tactics of the famous family—believing many of their “oh my gosh” moments to be staged for publicity. The most noted event began with the Paris robbery, with Kim Kardashian citing that she had been held at gunpoint and robbed in her hotel room while on a work vacation with her sisters and friends. While this played out on their hit Reality Show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, many believed it was staged to grab viewers and get people to tune in.

Fast forward to their very public relationships, the ones that we don’t hear about until it’s time for their show to air or they’re getting ready to drop a new business or addition to their existing business. All in all, it’s worked. The family is now deemed one of the most powerful families in Hollywood, with Kris Jenner being the power that sits on the throne.

Luxury brands like Balenciaga, Gucci, Prada, and even Versace have all been accused of creating products that are either racist or controversial in nature. Gucci’s knitwear recalling blackface, Prada’s Little Black Sambo bag charm, and Dolce and Gabbana’s anti-Asian comments are notable examples.

However, Balenciaga seems to have made this a habit, and coincidentally, Kim Kardashian appears to be very close to the brand, often seen marketing and campaigning for their products. So, is there some correlation there? What do they have to gain by offending their audience? Money, of course, and no, not money for the product itself.

Allow me to explain…

Balenciaga recently announced their product, the “Balenciaga Towel Skirt In Beige,” retailing for $925, to much backlash and criticism from the general public. I noticed something very interesting: the item is on pre-order and is not yet available for purchase. However, it’s already gone viral, with many questioning the reason for this and why Balenciaga has stooped to such lows. Well, it’s simple, in my opinion.

They use shock advertising to get the public talking. This will boost their brand visibility, secure sales of items available for purchase that aren’t offensive, increase traffic for well over 3 months and then some. They will then remove the item, issue an apology via Twitter, and sit back and laugh as the dust settles, counting the money they’ve made from the other items in their store, all of this without ever putting this towel product into actual production. They’ve spent zero dollars in marketing—well, perhaps a few dollars for the model and the photoshoot—but that’s a drop in the hat compared to the money they’ve made just from getting people to THINK this is a real product.

Image Credit: Raymond Hall / Contributor / Getty Images

Feeling silly yet? Well, don’t. A recent article from Bloomberg shares that both Gucci and Balenciaga are struggling in comparison to their rival, LVMH. The article states, “Balenciaga has been in crisis mode since November 2022 when it unveiled an ad campaign showing young children with teddy bears wearing what appeared to be bondage gear.” That was a shock advertising campaign that went too far, and now, the towel should be their way of bouncing back and getting those clicks in. However, one cannot help but wonder, when will enough be enough?

Many fashion enthusiasts are speculating that consumers are just not interested in high-fashion luxury brands anymore. While they may spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars collaborating with celebrities, it doesn’t appear to be helping. Consumers are either opting for thrifting or mid-level premier fashion companies such as Zara, The LUEQ\., which has recently expanded from France to the United States and UK, unveiling a new online collection on January 1, 2024.

Many are excited for this line to make its appearance, with their pre-orders having reached over $1 million in sales in just 2 months, and in some cases, The Row. Kylie Jenner has also noticed this shift and decided to take a chance in the fashion section, once again after the epic demise of Kylie Swim. Khy, the luxury brand from the Jenner sister, has received mixed reviews since its release, with many citing the faux leather to be cheap and just not worth the price and/or hype.

Here's the thing; I don’t think leather should be worn at all. I've purchased faux leather jackets from Zara in the past, and they ended up peeling. One night I was out with friends and pieces of my jacket kept falling into my food. At first, I thought it was mold dripping from the ceiling until my friend told me it was literally my jacket falling apart. I was beyond embarrassed and had to remove the jacket, spending the rest of the night without one despite how chilly the air was. If I’m going to spend $120 on a jacket, I would hope for it to stay out of my food.

All in all, it doesn’t appear that shock advertising is going away anytime soon; the atmosphere for luxury has altered drastically. Many brands believe they now need celebrities to sell their items, and that means less profit and revenue. To stay afloat, they need to do things like pretending to sell a towel for almost a thousand dollars to pull in some sales that do not include a big photoshoot budget with an actress or actor from a Netflix show. The rewards outweigh the risks in this sense. But, what do you think, and are you going to purchase the Towel Skirt In Beige?


bottom of page