Luxury criteria – objective or subjective?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Six years ago, in one of my first blogs, titled:  What is luxury? “The no-need need”, I introduced the reader to the six attributes of luxury as first proposed by Dubois and his colleagues. The six attributes are:

  1. Extreme Quality
  2. Expensiveness
  3. Scarcity
  4. Aesthetic Appeal
  5.   Superfluousness
  6. Time Incorporation


Though Dubois and his colleagues established these attributes based on empirical research, my research provided a theoretical basis for them, and showed that there are no more and no less than these six attributes. As I progressed, I also found that these attributes can be understood in a more abstract way such that they can be applicable in any case when personal choice is manifested. Consequently, I showed how these attributes are manifested in leadership and organisational behaviour, for example.


Regarding these attributes, J.P. Kuehlwein of Classified Branding commented a few weeks ago as follows:


I don’t think criteria like quality, scarcity or expensiveness can be assessed objectively.  In fact, if objective assessment was possible, it would make it irrelevant for luxury brands.  That is because luxury brands live on perception.  All brands do – otherwise the product becomes a commodity – but luxury brands particularly depend on perceptions because most are bought to make us feel a certain way and/or make us be perceived in a desirable way rather than to serve a utilitarian purpose.  You don’t buy a Louis Vuitton suitcase because it is practical or long lasting.  Its celebrated craftsmanship served to make it practical a hundred years ago.[…]  A middle-aged man does not buy a Ferrari because it is comfortable, reliable, economical or in any other way ‘rational’.  Emotional needs are the main drivers.


Luxury brands also do everything to NOT be comparable. Nespresso tries everything NOT to be compared to a homemade cup of coffee.  It wants to be seen and experienced as an incomparable gourmet snob experience.  Did you read that Starbucks loses in blind tests to Folgers coffee?


So, it does not matter if a TVR, Ferrari, or Land Rover is not reliable, that is not the criteria by which the buyers assess them.  It does not matter that Nespresso is (no longer) physically rare, as long as it succeeds to remain a rare experience in the mind of the drinker and host offering it to her guests.  And a Hummer is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder because it expresses the virile masculinity they want to project.


Mr. Kuehlwein makes an important point, and I agree – the six attributes are assessed subjectively. This is one of the reasons that these attributes can be applicable in almost any situation. A person can always perceive an item to be scarce, have aesthetic appeal, be superfluous etc. However many luxury users are unaware of that they assess luxury according to these attributes. My research, which is based on a system that listens to the inner voice of the consumer, has nonetheless shown that people use these six attributes even when the meaning they give to them is subjective.


These attributes do not need to be present in an item in an objective sense. Buyers perceive items to have these qualities, or interpret the items to have particular meanings to them.  This interpretation is always emotional and never logical. Nevertheless, interpretation of luxury follows a very distinct model.


Even though the six attributes do not need to be present in luxury in an objective sense, they are still a core part of luxury buying. Understanding how customers perceive these attributes in products enables us to satisfy our customers more fully and sell luxury successfully.

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