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What does Fortnite x Balenciaga mean for the future of marketing?

Luxury fashion brand Balenciaga has unveiled a collaboration with Fortnite, which includes both physical and digital versions of branded clothing. Is this the future of luxury marketing?

Fortnite has been around for over four years, but still remains a commercial juggernaut that experiments with innovative marketing strategies, whether it be virtual concerts, unique cosmetics, or full-blown real time events.

Its latest venture sees high-end clothing brand Balenciaga feature exclusive skins and weapons in-game, alongside a physical merch drop on its website should you want to look the part in real life.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Fortnite take on top-end commercial properties. Remember when Travis held a live event that included a giant virtual avatar and an exploding black hole?

These types of stunts are becoming more commonplace – and reaching beyond just Epic Games.

How is the collaboration being rolled out?

Skins are available via the Fortnite Battle Pass shop for a limited time, with four unique player options to choose from.

One is a pug in a Fortnite hoodie, another a knight with Balenciaga clothing on over metallic armour, amongst others, while a selection of backpacks are also on offer in a variety of styles and aesthetics.

Weapons have been given a re-touch too, with the standard melee weapon now resembling a sneaker on a stick. It’s unique, if nothing else.

It’s not just digital clothing receiving a shake-up. Physical items are available via the Balenciaga website, which includes hoodies, caps, denim jackets, and sweaters. Just don’t spend too long looking at those prices, they’ll make your head spin.

These unusual and unexpected brand collaborations are becoming increasingly common as e-sports and virtual spaces continue to prove themselves as commercially viable. If business is to be had via online multiplayer shooters, you can bet that top brands will want to appeal to a new generation, even if it’s somewhat unconventional.

Though this is obviously an inaccessible collaboration for most of us (I doubt many can afford to splash nearly £300 on a cap), it does indicate where the fashion industry is headed.

Soon we could see more widespread and mainstream brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Converse creating similar marketing strategies to promote their product lines.

What has been the response?

While the original trailer on the Fortnite YouTube channel has had a mostly positive reception, responses to other versions from PlayStation and IGN have been mixed.

One user commented that Fortnite has become ‘hyper capitalist’ and that collaborations like this feel like ‘literal parodies of the 21st century’.

It is easy to understand these sentiments, particularly in an era where gaming faces deserved scrutiny for exploitative monetisation tactics such as loot boxes, card packs, and sometimes even literal slot machines. To some, the inclusion of luxury brands in multiplayer games is unnecessary advertisement in an already heavily money-focused experience.

This feeling is warranted, but is a disservice to the potential of digital clothing and virtual garments as a vehicle for brand awareness and social movements.

We’ve already written before about how these spaces have been used in more artistic, less commercial ways than Fortnite. Balenciaga released a full video game demo for a fashion line called ‘Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow’ last year that experimented with player control to showcase new clothes and sustainable initiatives.

Hopefully we’ll see more of these types of events focused on social change issues as they become easier to develop – it won’t all be pugs in Fortnite hoodies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind.

Could this be the future?

Whichever way you look at it, virtual reality, augmented visuals, and marketing that blurs the boundaries between dimensions is very much here to stay.

Balenciaga has pushed the envelope with this collaboration, creating 3D billboards that appear in real, physical places within cities like London and New York to advertise the event. They’re impressive and wholly unique.

With artists and creatives getting on board with one-off or limited time virtual marketing, the limits of this new medium are almost endless.

A recent example includes KSI ‘performing’ live within Roblox, where a pre-recorded video played within the game and the man himself interacted with fans via a digital avatar. It merges the best of both physical and digital marketing strategies – allowing fans to interact with an artist or brand without the excessive cost of physical venues and resources.

Another use of virtual spaces to promote an event was Burning Man in 2020. We wrote about it last year when the desert festival had to move to digital platforms, relying on VR and expert developers to craft a variety of sensory experiences that attempted to replace the real thing.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly the same as getting trippy in the middle of Nevada, but it did showcase that immersive digital spaces have a bright future for events, branding, fashion, and pretty much everything in between.

Watch this space – no doubt another heavyweight brand like Supreme will be up next. Perhaps a virtual Halo collab? We can only hope.