The Magnolia Appeal: Why We Love Chip and Joanna Gaines

And how the 'Fixer Upper' stars are setting an agenda for top fashion houses

Apr 25, 2019
Marketing

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Chip and Joanna Gaines began their rise to popularity with their HGTV home makeover series, “Fixer Upper.” They were knocking down walls, fixing up homes – and building a marketing empire.

Their success is setting a new agenda for big-box retailers and elite fashion houses alike, says Maryland Smith’s Yajin Wang.

Viewers can’t seem to get enough of the couple's “modern farmhouse” design style and their family-friendly vibe. A string of successes have followed the 2013 premiere of “Fixer Upper” – book deals, a magazine, a Texas retail complex, and exclusive home decor lines for Target, Anthropologie and others. Now, the married design duo are gearing up for a summer 2020 launch of their own television network with Discovery Inc.

It’s not that surprising that consumers are so captivated by Chip, “Jojo” and their five kids, says Wang, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. They’ve hit on the marketer’s holy grail: A good, authentic brand story.

“The audience really loves their personalities, their life, and that’s why they have a following,” she says. “Viewers connect with their traditional family values, their support for each other, their interactions with their children. They portray this image of a loving couple who are just like your neighbors on their show, their Instagram feed and all social media. That’s what sells.”

Wang studies luxury products and how consumers interact with them. She says in marketing today, it’s about selling more than products; it’s about selling a whole lifestyle.

Traditional luxury brands, she says, often struggle with this. But increasingly, they’re making an effort. Even the 165-year-old French fashion house Louis Vuitton now is pushing home products, she says, in the drive for better profits. “They have increasing sales in their furniture line, which you probably didn’t even realize they had,” Wang says.

Wang recently visited luxury brand Hermès in Rome. She says the brand’s separate home store, carrying items like fine china tea sets and curtains, was packed with shoppers. “People are investing more in their homes and want to showcase a certain lifestyle.”

Consumers use their social media feeds to show that lifestyle. And that’s where the shifts are most evident.

“That’s a big contributor to the popularity of home design and renovation. It used to be that only your relatives and friends who visited your home would see your design choices,” says Wang. “But now, you can post the pictures and people thousands of miles from you can see your beautiful home.”

Bragging about material goods doesn’t have the same effect. “If you post a Chanel bag, that probably won’t receive a lot of positive feedback. But you post an image from your home that portrays a loving family interaction, that will get more positive reactions from your social network.”

Wang says this shift is why the Gaines’ authenticity is striking a chord with followers and leading to so much success for their lifestyle brand, Magnolia. What they share isn’t always glamorous or perfect, but it is sincere. “They sometimes post photos of laundry or kids’ messes. These flaws bring them closer to consumers.”

Their underdog story also has an endearing quality. “People like these stories of coming from a small town and making it big. Waco, Texas, is kind of like that town.” Even the show’s name, “Fixer Upper,” plays into that underdog effect.

But can Chip and Joanna Gaines survive as more and more brands seek to adopt their playbook? They can, says Wang, as long as they true to their their image and their brand.

“A brand does need to have its competitive advantage and core values. I don’t know how far that can extend for the Gaineses. For it to work, a brand needs to extend to products or services that are still a fit with the brand image, and not stray too far.”

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About the Expert(s)

Professor Wang received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota in 2015. Her research focuses on luxury brands and conspicuous consumption, and social/ interpersonal influence on consumer's behavior. Her research has been published in Journal of Consumer Research and Psychological Science, and has been covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, BBC News, FOX News, and CNN. She teaches consumer behavior in the undergraduate program.

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