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Slammed Charles & Keith TikToker onboards AirAsia content: A missed opportunity for C&K to do more?

Slammed Charles & Keith TikToker onboards AirAsia content: A missed opportunity for C&K to do more?

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 Zoe Gabriel, the TikToker who rose to fame recently after labelling a Charles & Keith bag a “luxury” item and sparking debate, has now been swept up by AirAsia for their promotional videos. The teenager was recently spotted in a number of TikTok videos promoting the airline as well as its amenities such as its food options. Gabriel can be seen donning the AirAsia cabin attendant’s uniform and dancing to popular songs alone as well as with some members of the crew onboard the plane. In the airline's most recent video, Gabriel can be seen trying out all the airline's meals and rating them on taste. 

The videos have since racked up millions of views with one surpassing 1.1 million at the time of writing. 

The campaigns come shortly after Charles & Keith featured Gabriel on its IWD ad campaign. The teen posted a photo of her posing with a purple Alia bag ($75.90) and wrote: “Women are like flowers: Our time and needs to grow may not always align, but that is okay. We are like fields of poppy and lakes of lotus – diverse and bold in our differences, beautiful in our own ways.”

Don't miss: Charles & Keith features bullied teenager as face of IWD ad campaign

The move came after Gabriel posted a video on TikTok thanking her father for gifting her first luxury bag from Charles & Keith, which was then slammed by users who insisted that Charles & Keith is not a luxury brand and that the bag was inexpensive. The backlash prompted Gabriel to post a second video where she tearfully explained that her family did not have much while she was growing up.

Since the incident, YouGov released data showing that Charles & Keith’s brand health metrics had risen significantly as the founders invited Gabriel to their offices to meet them. In terms of media and communication metrics, net buzz scores, which measure whether consumers have heard more positive or negative things about a brand in the past two weeks, soared by 19.7 points. It shot up drastically from 7.9 on 8 January to 27.6 by 16 January, according to the release. 

While it isn't clear if Charles & Keith has further intentions of working with Gabriel, what is clear is that AirAsia is ripping the benefit of the latest partnership featuring Gabriel with over 32,300% increase in mentions related to the teen, according to a spokesperson at media intelligence company Meltwater.

Weldon Fung, area director for Southeast Asia, Meltwater said the move by AirAsia to bring the teen in as a content creator is an interesting one. “It aligns well with their purpose of making travel available to everybody,” said Fung. “In the same way, luxury is in the eye of the beholder and C&K's purpose of making luxury leather goods available to different segments, AirAsia is bringing the same messaging that while for some travelling is a luxury,” he said. He added that so far, the response has been positive and comments from people on social media have been resoundingly supportive.

Meanwhile, there are also no negative social conversations surrounding the teen which indicates the huge support she has from the wider public. According to media intelligence company CARMA, one interesting fact is that despite Gabriel is promoting AirAsia in these videos, Charles & Keith, the Singaporean brand responsible for catapulting her to success, continues to enjoy an almost 50% positive sentiment in social conversations. Keywords associated with Charles & Keith also continue to still be “TikTok” and “viral”, according to CARMA.


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Considering how well Gabriel is received by the public, AirAsia might see brand sentiments tipping in their favour. However, as yet, this campaign by AirAsia had little impact on its brand and netizens seem to continue to focus on the recent news that it will be rescheduling flights near the beginning of the fasting month which is a critical time for travelers hoping to fly home to their families. 

"That being said, branding campaigns are a long-term play, and it is not fair to determine the value of a partnership immediately. It is critical for brands to ensure that any challenges with their products or services are fixed and communicated to its target audience in the short term. This will amplify the impact of brand campaigns in the longer term," said a spokesperson at CARMA. 

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Micro-influencers on the rise?

Considering how well Gabriel is doing, the question now if microinfluencers might be on the rise now that brands such as Charles & Keith and AirAsia have tapped into them successfully.  "Gabriel’s zero negative sentiment could possibly explain why brands such as AirAsia have been tapping her to work on organic content," noted a CARMA spokesperson. "Influencers come with virality but typically, they have some degree of controversy. Saying that, micro-influencers such as Gabriel, who are new, can quickly become household names and may be the safer option to partner with," they continued. 


Saying that brands should tred carefully if they want to tap on trending influencers, said Jose Raymond, the director of strategic advisory at PRecious Communications. "Audiences might recognise that these brands are just riding on their fame and they risk fizzling out after audiences become immune to the message, or worse, get turned off."

He added that it is only natural and expected that other brands will want to tap into Gabriel's online popularity particularly if they are not conflicting brands to Charles & Keith.

"AirAsia is not a conflicting brand to Charles & Keith, and given that Zoe is trending in many ways after how she went viral, it is only natural  and expected that other brands will want to tap into her online popularity," he said.

Agreeing with him, Tjin Lee, the managing director at Mercury Marketing & Communications noted that microinfluencers are not to be ignored and that they are important because they are authentic. However, microinfluencers, she noted, ride on trends and brands might not have enough time to do proper value checks to ensure that they are aligned. "It could be a double-edged sword. It might get a brand traction but if they don't do their checks, something could come up later on and that might hurt the brand. She was also of the view that Charles & Keith, in this instance, could have moved a little faster.

Joyce Liong, senior partner and head of digital & insights, Finn Partners Singapore added that the way AirAsia featured the teen in the campaign was “a little bit disappointing” as the brand is missing out on the greater opportunity to engage with their audiences in a more authentic manner.

“She was used almost like a gimmick, slapping her face onto their campaigns without proper planning on how to integrate and align her personal values with that of AirAsia to drive real purpose,” she said.

She added that with consumers looking for brands who are purpose-driven, companies must rethink their influencer marketing strategy.

“Don't engage an influencer solely to be the face of your brand just so you can leverage on their following to go viral. Instead, develop a long-term relationship with influencers whose values are aligned with your brand personality and values,” she said.

“Use that relationship as an opportunity to be authentic with your audiences. Brands that can successfully make that transition are the ones that will be able to create long-lasting, authentic relationships with their customers that will be able to grow and develop over-time and not one that is reliant on chasing the next fad,” she added.

Related articles:
Charles & Keith gathers in-house talents to share equity stories for IWD
Charles & Keith’s brand health metrics soar in the wake of TikTok incident
Charles & Keith 'customises' bag for Tiktok teen, while brands continue to trend jack

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