Francis Bourgeois: The untapped power of authenticity in marketing4 min read

francis bourgeois trainspotter

Francis Bourgeois, a TikTok trainspotter, recently landed a brand deal with Northface x Gucci in an unlikely partnership. The 21-year old began his TikTok journey during the covid-19 pandemic and quickly amassed over 2 million followers as the ‘train guy’. Visiting railway stations isn’t the type of content marketers envision taking off. But his wholesome vibe, authentic persona, and love for trains is too infectious to ignore. And while some remain sceptical about him, the results speak for themselves. His niche channel has 38 million likes and continues to chug along at full speed.


I wanted to make this video to show that train spotters can come in different shapes and sizes! #trains #trending #fyp

♬ original sound – Francis Bourgeois

The perception of authenticity is key to success in these times we live in but it’s not easy to pull off. To understand how to harness the power of authentic marketing, first take a look at how Gucci x The North Face nailed their campaign with Francis.

Gucci x The North Face ad – Francis Bourgeois

TikTok’s favourite trainspotter starred in Highsnobiety’s second campaign for The North Face and Gucci. These luxury brands need to stay on top of fashion trends and cultural moments to remain relevant (and expensive!) Since TikTok has become a major trendsetter, its content creators are now the gatekeepers. Highsnobiety understood the assignment when targeting niche creators on the platform and tapping into their highly engaged communities with authentic content.

The campaign focuses on the idea of “eccentric exploration,” playing into the culture shift towards clothes that are fit for movement, as well as Francis’s passion for trains. The advert above captures a luxuriously vintage and free-spirited, dream-like lifestyle. A train journey conducted entirely by Francis features youthful passengers dripping head to toe in North Face and Gucci while sharing his enthusiasm. That’s it. It didn’t need to be clever or appeal to everybody. It is simply a celebration of Bourgeois in his natural habitat. That’s what matters to his audience and wins them over.

francis trainspotter
Source: Highsnobiety

Why is authenticity important in marketing?

In 2019, Stackla ran a survey of 2,000 adults in the UK, US, and Australia and found that 86% considered a brand’s authenticity to be important when deciding whether to support it or not. Companies producing content that is too corporate or insincere are seen as inauthentic. Gen Z consumers are hyper aware of this type of marketing and usually despise it.

Corporate = Taking yourself too seriously e.g. “at Marketing World, we believe…” This is often accompanied by meaningless jargon and pretentious words no one uses in regular conversation such as “utilise” or “we provide sustainable solutions using technological innovation”. Instead, pick up a basic copywriting book and start writing content using that advice while embracing the norms of specific platforms.

Be adaptable but not insincere, which looks more like this:


Insincerity is where a lot of brands trip up and sound the alarm. Consumers can sense when you’re pandering, pretending to be something you’re not, or forcing a product where it’s not meant to be. The aim of the game in marketing is to make the value proposition of content so good that consumers will forgive or forget that you are selling to them.

Define your brand purpose and values and stick to them. It’s better to be consistent and genuine than coming across like this guy:

Older man in a school saying "how do you do, fellow kids?"

In sum, authentic marketing is about being real, genuine, and honest. Find a reason to believe in your product or causes other than money and then focus on creating real connections with a specific audience. Understanding your brand DNA will help guide the right choices about what opportunities to jump on, which influencers to work with, and the way you adapt in different environments.

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