PARIS — Patrizio Miceli, head of creative agency Al Dente and its sister food operation, Al Dente Salsa, is an old hand at crisis communication. During the 2008 financial crisis, he launched Aldentelacrise, a blog for people to vent about the global economic meltdown.
Times have changed. With social networks now allowing people across the globe to talk to each other directly, Miceli is focusing on evolving the communication strategies of his luxury clients, which include Louis Vuitton, Boucheron and Emilio Pucci. Founded 16 years ago, his agency employs 25 people and has its own film production arm as well as two photo studios.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Al Dente was looking beyond social media to other digital platforms, including Netflix and Spotify, devising campaigns that extend farther than product into cultural content.
With many luxury brands now busy producing entertainment for their confined audiences, ranging from fitness classes to sexual wellness podcasts, that trend will only gather steam, he predicted. “There’s an extraordinary opportunity for brands to explore more broadly their aura beyond products,” Miceli said.
He’s setting the example, cooking his favorite pasta recipes — made with Al Dente ingredients, naturally — on his Instagram Stories. Miceli spoke to WWD about meaningful messaging, how luxury consumption will change, and why laughter is key in the darkest hours.
WWD: When faced with a sudden and massive crisis, should brands go dark or continue to communicate?
Patrizio Miceli: For me, going dark means letting others occupy the space. On the other hand, communicating just for the sake of it can be counterproductive. So you have to be able to tailor the message to the house.
This is a good time for digital communication. A new relationship is emerging between brands and their audience, and communication has to be much stronger. There should be less focus on products, and more on services.
There’s quite a lot of content that suddenly looks completely irrelevant. I saw some bad buzz on jewelry editorials. Some things no longer fly, and conversely, some brands are providing a real service to their community.
WWD: Right now, brands can’t sell many products, stage runway shows or organize events. What can they talk about with their audience?
P.M.: Luxury brands have a phenomenal global cultural aura that goes way beyond products. You might not be a customer of a given brand, but you might still like its philosophy and brand culture. I think that brand culture will be key going forward.
This crisis means we will never again communicate in the same way, and we will try to make everything we do much more meaningful.
WWD: In 2009, you launched your blog Aldentelacrise, which generated a line of slogan T-shirts sold at Colette. What’s changed and what hasn’t between now and then?
P.M.: What hasn’t changed is the need to laugh and let off steam in the face of a crisis that is beyond our control. The main difference is that back then, we didn’t have social networks, so we had a huge audience with Aldentelacrise, because there weren’t many platforms to vent. We became a platform for people in the arts, fashion and entertainment to react with humor to events beyond their control. I think that need remains strong.
I get the feeling that this time, the aftereffects will be more permanent. This crisis is going to trigger a lot of structural changes in our lives, whereas the previous one had less of a lasting impact.
Suddenly, you have half the planet confined, so it’s really affecting our daily existence and lifestyle. The big difference between the two crises is that we are all going through a powerful psychological shock.
WWD: How do you think people’s behavior will change?
P.M.: We’re experiencing something unique and universal, but I don’t think there will be a unique and universal solution to this crisis. Everyone will want to adjust their life differently. For luxury houses, the big change will be how to help people fill their time in new ways.
Some people will have extremely futile reactions, others will be deeply philosophical, and it will be interesting to see that play out.
I think this is going to change our relationship with cities. This crisis has really brought up the shortcomings of urban living. Personally, if I was looking to protect myself from a future pandemic, I would want to become self-sufficient, which is something I’ve already started with my tomato sauce business by securing access to the most beautiful tomato field in Italy. For me, absolute luxury today is to be self-sufficient.
WWD: Will this confinement period accelerate the shift toward digital communications?
P.M.: Yes, but at the same time, we’re seeing a crisis of reach on social networks. For us, this year is all about rethinking the power of digital media and finding audiences on completely new platforms. When you consider that 95 percent of audiences don’t see the organic content produced by brands, it makes you question the efficiency of the network. We work closely with Facebook and Instagram, and it’s true that today, a brand that doesn’t invest [in sponsored content] does not reach its audience.
We’re looking at different platforms like Spotify or even Twitch, which is a live-streaming platform for gamers where there is a phenomenal audience for brands, with more than 60 million visitors per month. They have brand content formats that are closer to entertainment.
We’re starting to use data in a big way, and leveraging our brand strategy augmented by data, we want to design new business segments for luxury houses and services that extend beyond communication.
Our job today is to tailor the message to the audience and the platform, and maybe the message is no longer an image, but a product — like a gaming “skin,” for example — that will be created conceptually for a specific platform.
WWD: What formats work best at a time like this?
P.M.: I really believe in long-form content, at a time when everything is short — for instance, a Netflix series on an aspect of luxury, without being too commercial.
I think it’s very pleasant and reassuring to maintain outdoor advertising, and at the same time, dive deeper into digital. We’re working with luxury houses to find new audiences on platforms that fit with their DNA.
When you go back to the origin of luxury, it’s an act of generosity and beauty. For me, those are the strategic ingredients for overcoming the crisis.
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