Yves Saint Laurent: How to sell a smell with influencer marketing

Date Brand Companies involved Influencers involved
September 1st, 2017 Yves Saint Lauren
Yves Saint Laurent: How to sell a smell with influencer marketing

Has flat lay had its day? Even if you have no idea what flat lay is, you’ll have seen it: Instagram photos of scrupulously arranged products, snapped from above.

Whether it’s perfect positioning of cheesecake ingredients or the artistically amassed inners of a beauty blogger’s handbag, they’re inarguably satisfying to look at.

But rather than ‘showing off’ products explicitly, some luxury brands are remaining true to the tried-and-tested formula of discreet endorsement.

With over 20 per cent of millennials finding out about the latest luxury items on social media, according to a survey by Deloitte, it makes sense for high-end brands to hit hard on this format.

Who's involved?

Luxury fragrance brand Yves Saint Laurent - a subsidiary of L’Oréal - collaborated with edgy influencers on a clever, elegant campaign for its male fragrance 'Y'. Taking influence from street style, the luxury brand set the bar for fresh standards of cool. For this campaign, it used quirky male models - the likes of German rock singer Bill Kaulitz and influencer Luca Macellari Palmieri - to appeal to today’s wave of aspirational fashion-forward men.

Luca Macellari Palmieri's Instagram post

Purpose of campaign

Overall, Yves Saint Laurent want to drive sales to millennials, specifically male consumers. But it also wanted to showcase its permanent change of image: to be perceived as a luxury brand with a cool edge.

For this campaign, then, the main goals were awareness and pull - targeting young men between 18 and 35 who are on-trend, urban and less brand-driven than their former generation. There’s no clear call-to-action needed here - it’s all about creating a desire for the product.

The Y campaign comprised of a series of Instagram posts from high-profile male influencers. The influencers explicitly stated a paid partnership with YSL Beauty or used the ‘ad’ hashtag, but each brought his own unique touch to the posts.

The common theme was the use of ‘Y’ in the captions: a slick, stylish “Cause there’s a Y in everything I do” from Luca Macellari Palmieri to the slightly less philosophical “Waking up - That’s Y!!!” from Bill Kaulitz. Image-wise, the fragrance bottle was included in each photo, but it was less about the product itself and more about the hip, urban models in the campaigns and their stories.


Quality and uniqueness are the most important factors luring millennials into purchasing luxury products, according to a survey on their spending habits by Deloitte. Both of those factors can apply to fragrance buying, too. We want a scent that’s “ours” but we also don’t want to smell cheap.

Yves Saint Laurent hit the nail on the head with its choice of influencers, social channels and discreet advertising. The nature of luxury is changing, the nature of marketing is changing, and brands need to make designer products more accessible to today’s market.

This campaign mirrors the branding of YSL in recent years, which has moved from a ‘loud’ strategy of in-your-face, instantly recognisable logos to a quieter one - think subtle tailoring details and heavy focus on ‘cool’ models.

It’s endorsing better quality and lifestyle success - it’s not about buying for buying’s sake and spreading it out in one satisfying flat lay. In a world where we’re still struggling to figure out what’s a sponsored post and what’s genuine, there’s a need for more authenticity than ever before.

Bill Kaulitz's Instagram post


This campaign is proof that subtle influencer marketing in the luxury industry can be a lot more successful than “showing off”. Millennials face troubled financial times - the struggle to get on the housing market, unpaid internships, the price of avocado toast - and parading opulent ownership of wealth is simply not attractive - nor is it cool.

The PR approach to positioning ‘Y’ in set-ups with young, hip modern men was a success. The brand’s follower growth rocketed by nearly 70% in 2017, with close to 28,000 mentions in that year alone. During the time of this campaign, the spike in sponsored posts in mirrored in the total follower count - a huge win for any beauty brand.

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Staff Writer