• jason

How Michael Kors could have anticipated the social media backlash of their Versace acquisition.

Updated: Dec 24, 2018

This week the US fashion giant Michael Kors confirmed the US$2.1 billion takeover of Versace while announcing plans to open approximately 100 new stores. The acquisition has outraged many fans of the Italian fashion house. Many on social media have bombarded the Instagram account of Donatella Versace, the creative director of the Milan-based brand, voicing their discontent.

But why has this particular acquisition created such an uproar? When Bulgari, (another example of an illustrious, family-run business) was acquired by LVMH in 2011, consumers failed to voice the level of anger and disappointment that this acquisition has sparked.

To better understand the Internet’s indignation, we leveraged our Behavioral Economics Based Predictive Insight Tool, MotivBase.com to better understand why Versace fans feel so betrayed.

At first glance, one might assume that the frustration stems from how this acquisition will denigrate the Versace brand, and what the fashion stands for. And if you only look at “what” consumers are saying, you see this reiterated in how people are calling Michael Kors “The tackiest man alive”.

Combine this with that fact, that if we examine the differences in the socio-demographics of the consumers who engage with these brands, we can see that Versace sits among those with a higher income:

And subsequently, it sits with those who belong to higher class sets.

But this is still only telling us “who” and “what”. To understand what is truly driving this outrage, we need to go further to better understand why this decision is creating tension with consumer’s values, and core beliefs.

By analyzing millions of conversations, and billions of topics, MotivBase uses over 30 years of behavioral economics and social science theory to conduct a cultural analysis at a big data scale.

By doing so, we can examine the culture of Michael Kors and compare it to the culture of Versace. Namely, what are the Attitudes, Values, Fears, and Motivations that these brands share, and that are unique to why people engage with them?

The first piece of insight is that both brands share an attitude. Consumers believe that they vote with their wallet and that they can make a difference in this world by choosing products that align with what they believe.

But when we begin to examine what motivates consumers to engage with the brand, we begin to see a stark difference.

The key motivation for Michael Kors is the need to keep up the appearance of wealth and success. But compare that to the key motivations for Versace:

Immediately, we can see that consumers who engage with Versace are more politically driven, that they care deeply about how larger corporations are detrimental to creativity and enlightenment in society. In fact, the top value for Versace is Activism.

This is more important than their need for their success to be acknowledged and recognized (although this too is threatened by the acquisition). But, the key motivation that has driven engagement around Versace, a family-owned, independent fashion house, was that the clothes reinforced social superiority, creativity, and independent thought. This is what Versace consumers hold dear at this moment in time — they believe their appreciation for the brand was making the world a better place and driving social change.

Now imagine the acquisition through the eyes of a consumer. You have invested in the Versace brand. Your narrative lies in its history, its status, and how it exudes wealth and success, but also in how it stands out as an independent icon in a world where culture and craft are being commoditized.

By becoming a part of Michael Kors, Versace is no longer the “suit of armor” consumers can wrap themselves in, to not only prove their status — it is deeper than that. It is the loss of an icon that represented a dedication to unique, independent creativity consumers felt was driving culture forward.

Which is even further explained, by looking at what each set of consumers fears.

It is not surprising, that Michael Kors is linked to a fear that they are not progressing in life, but for Versace, the key fear is that despite their efforts to make a change in the world and to reinforce the need for sophistication, intelligence, and creativity, it is all for naught.

Finally, it is also interesting to consider, that when you compare the dominant attitudes, Versace consumers exhibit the following:

Versace may have been high-end. It may have been for the elite. But it was a family-owned fashion house. Versace consumers are critical of corporate cultures that put profit over purpose.


The purpose of this article is not to say this acquisition should not have happened. The purpose of this article is to say that there was an opportunity to understand the unique cultures that existed in the minds of their consumers.

Interestingly enough, we compared the ethnographic DNA of Versace fans in 2017 compared to 2018.

As we can see, Versace consumers were less ideological in 2017. Yes, they were exhibiting interest and concern about making a difference through responsible choices, but as we can see in the attitudes below, they were still looking to reinforce an image of success and superiority.

Would Versace consumers have been upset in 2017?


But the data suggests that they would have been more concerned about denigration to their image, versus linking this acquisition to the idea that corporate interests are destroying creativity and casting a shadow on the enlightenment of culture.

The bigger question is how will they respond, and prove that the beliefs and values of their biggest fans are not being ignored in the days to come.

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