Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Luxury brands - sanity or vanity?

Luxury brands – sanity or vanity?
In response to being asked several questions regarding the marketing of luxury brands I decided to include my comments in an article. The questions were –
·         What do I think of the tactics luxury fashion brands employ to encourage consumers to trust in them
·         Why we are so trusting of the 'double C' of Chanel or the red soles of a Louboutin shoe?
·         Why branding is so successful and how advertisements stimulate a desire for the product/brand in question
·         Why do we find it difficult to spend money on an expensive item if we are not aware of the brand name? Surely it is the quality we want to invest in, not simply a label?
·         Where has this 'label-desire' emerged from and how has it evolved?

Let’s begin with your apparent frustration at what makes consumers more likely to buy into a label above quality. I did smile at your comment “simply a label” and imagined luxury brand designers doing a ‘Meryl Streep’ from the Devil Wears Prada. This is my take on your questions ….

Luxury brands started as unknown, quality but new; what they have been able to cultivate is desirability, (I imagine in early days through their network of contacts fostered from birth, educational establishments, parental contacts, privileged lifestyles, sheer talent, right place/right time ….or any combination of these!)
Hold in the mind the mentality of people who occupy a world where £500 for a blouse or £200 for a scarf is seen as a small treat (the equivalent of lipstick or chocolate bar in ‘ordinary’ life). And they buy it because they can. The slavish trust of the 'double C' of Chanel or the red soles of a Louboutin shoe you mention is an external badge of wealth, the trust being that others will recognise this wealth and exclusivity and acknowledge it with appropriate deference.
The people I believe you are occupied by are those who are driven entirely by vacuous ideals of ‘association’ equalling self-worth and respect.  Being seen wearing the right label, eating in the right restaurant, driving the right car etc. is their imperative.
Parallel to this is the egotistical thought that they are the trailblazers, the people who lead the way, who others aspire to be, those who can influence their ‘tribe’ (however ridiculous this appears, especially with fashion and beauty treatments. Think puff-ball skirts, Ugg boots, injecting lamb placenta, drinking grass etc!)
Couple this with the association of price being directly equated with quality. Luxury brands simply wouldn’t be seen as genuine unless they have an associated price tag. And this constitutes part of the pleasure, being able to announce in a cool and aloof style how much something cost. Otherwise what’s the point?
So, either through privilege or talent, a brand is associated with its dominant or early adopters, (often the wealthiest or more eccentric), and so the momentum builds. Years ago this took time to build and cultivate, however, a brand becoming global and aspirational is now increasingly hijacked by a prevailing culture and obsession with celebrity (or royalty, aka Princess Diana & Duchess of Cambridge) in particular what brands they wear and love (with often dubious associations, especially in skincare).
The impact of being showcased in the media is immediate, with demand reaching unprecedented levels as a direct result of being worn by the people the media suggest ‘we all want to be like’. 
Luxury brands are successful for many reasons (consistency, innovation, design, quality etc) but in answer to the central question you are asking, (luxury brands and the obsession people have with owing the label), it comes down to a simple yet highly seductive suggestion …….’this could be you’ ……. and few are impervious to this message. 
Rationality does not apply, nor does intellect. It boils down to our accepting message that youth, beauty, desirability, sophistication and style can all be yours when you wear this brand. Perception versus reality.
Desirability, despite a recession or economic austerity will always exist. It is, and always will be, a part of the human psyche …..delusional perhaps, yet an inevitable consequence of externalised measures of self-worth and respect. No matter how bad life becomes luxury brands are like a salve for bruised egos, their desirability growing exponentially when times are hard.
Society is made up of various ‘tribes’, ‘worlds’, or ‘herds’ dominated by the wealthiest, who almost always hold the power, and who everyone else aspires to be. An element of this aspiration is what the top tribes are wearing. Aspiring tribes can ape the object of their desire simply by reproducing the ‘look’. They may not have the contacts, the opportunities or the wealth but they can feel just like them (and so project success) by copying their style. (This can also work in reverse as with the negative chav association with Burberry, or the Adidas wearing hooligan rioting for their Xbox in 2012)
What we wear, what we drive, how we look, etc is short-hand for the respect we command, how we’re valued, and so ultimately, how we’re judged by others and ourselves. Yes, it’s an entirely specious, shallow and flawed measure to the accuracy of a person’s value or moral principles, however, it exists and is becoming increasingly prevalent, so rejecting it as part of a marketing or advertising campaign for a brand would be insanity.
You appear especially confounded by the inability or reluctance of people to recognise quality, be prepared to pay a premium for this, and ignore the fact it has no label/brand association.

The label is the imperative!

Increasingly people are unable to discern or recognise quality simply because the need to be perceived as wealthy and successful surpasses everything else, and luxury brands/labels now fulfil this need by providing an effortless fa├žade.

Luxury brands are more than “simply a label”; they are without exception the innovators, the bastions of quality and the pioneers of attention to detail.
All of which comes at a cost.
The fact that the brand gets seized upon and adopted by an apparently indiscriminate herd electing to use it as compensation or evidence of their wealth is viewed as collateral damage by most of the brands in their pursuit of quality, design and innovation.