Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant — A Retrospective of Influencer Marketing

By Sarah Smith

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In 2018 Fashion Nova was one of the most Googled brands in the world along with the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton. But contrary to the luxury brands, Fashion Nova is a fast-fashion retailer whose clothing averages around a price of $30 USD and whose press articles are riddled with scandals and backlash.

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Fashion Nova

So, where did the power of influential media come from? It certainly was not an invention that sprouted from Instagram. And how cautious do we need to be with it?

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1894

Using influencers on social media for promotion is now the most conventional way of doing marketing. But, even though Instagram has only been around since 2010, using media as a way of influencing decisions has been around since the French era “La Belle Epoque” in the 1890s. More specifically, we can zoom in on Parisian artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his innovation in poster designs.

To better understand Lautrec’s innovation and the impact it had, it’s important to know the history surrounding it.

The French aristocracy of this time fled reality by indulging in the riches of life. Montmartre cabarets filled up nightly as people flocked to watch cabaret performances while Parisian streets became littered with posters advertising these shows.

Such posters only served as a supplementary part of the Montmartre nightlife until Lautrec arrived in Paris and made posters a force that influenced Montmartre nightlife.

As Lautrec became a regular at many venues, he befriended cabaret singer Aristide Bruant, the man who became the subject of one of Lautrec’s most famous posters.

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Ambassadeurs, Aristide Bruant

When Bruant was invited to sing at Les Ambassadeurs, he insisted that Lautrec create the poster for his event. Lautrec came back to him with a poster that contrasted everything that the art of La Belle Epoque was familiar with.

Elegant lines and delicate depictions of events were replaced with bold colors and grotesque figures. The owner of Les Ambassadeurs rejected the poster at first, but upon Bruant insisting that the poster be used or else he refused to perform, Lautrec’s designs were plastered all around Paris.

With so many posters decorating a city, it was difficult for any single one to stand out. Yet, Lautrec, with his new designs, had the ability to influence people to attend shows upon seeing his posters.

Lautrec’s innovative style of poster-making, one that was capable of capturing personalities and behaviors within the simplicity of just a few lines and colors, influenced the popularity of Montmartre shows tremendously.

People began to go see performers solely because they were the subject of one of Lautrec’s posters.

Here, within the nightlife of the Montmartre district of Paris in the 1890s, we see an early example of influencing people’s decisions from the way something is portrayed in media.

Contending posters that sat next to Lautrec’s may have succeeded at selling tickets and filling seats, but Lautrec’s posters succeeded at doing so much more; he managed to influence an entirely new wave of the way people view and think about performers.

We should take in Lautrec’s accomplishment the same way we judge successful social media influencers today. Just as Fashion Nova uses influencers to advertise their products on social media, artists would go to Lautrec to have their shows advertised by his posters.

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Lautrec vs. Fashion Nova

Promotional content exists to sell us things, but sometimes they are so powerful that they have the capacity to alter how we act and think in the long term.

Both Lautrec’s posters and influencers’ social media campaigns have changed the way people make purchasing decisions; they changed the way people value particular things.

Lautrec was able to create a movement that affected the way society interacted and communicated just through the use of posters. Imagine today, where posters on lamp poles have been replaced with smartphones and social media.

The ad promotions we see on Instagram are merely the result of a timeline of innovations following from the posters that were used centuries ago.

But having social media today is like gaining access to a megaphone in comparison to using posters for the purpose of sharing information. So with such heightened power, reach, and accessibility over promotional capabilities it’s crucial we pay even more attention to how that megaphone is being used.

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Fashion Nova nearing 20 million Instagram followers

A brand like Fashion Nova, who’s operations are so visibly detrimental to the environment and yet still continues to rapidly grow in success, is the proof that by knowing how to successfully leverage the use of influencers, you can achieve almost any success you seek for.

As the force of influence through media continues to get stronger — think Lautrec’s posters back then vs. Instagram today — we ought to grow increasingly more intentional about using it for good at the same time.

About the author:

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Sarah is our community manager, working closely with partners and community members to help us transition to a circular economy. She also runs our product community for TGW — a free design thinking and innovation platform for tomorrow’s changemakers and entrepreneurs. You can request access to our community by reaching out to Sarah via email sarahsmith@flf.design

FLF Product Design — designing and launching new ventures and digital products, with a focus on analytics, organizational design and sustainability.

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