Can we mass-market luxury?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

We are irrational. After all, out motivation resides in our subconscious. We have passions and emotions that dictate our behavior and constantly overrule, block and blind our logic. Yes, we are human and that we are ashamed of it is human, too.

In spite of these obvious observations academia keeps on failing by trying to squeeze human behavior into this “logic” box. It tries to explain in logic terms why we behave in one way or another when the real answer is actually illogical and irrational.

I recently read an article by one of my favorite brand experts – Jean Noel Kapferer. Prof. Kapferer in his article addresses the challenge that luxury brands face when growth dilutes their luxury cachet. One key characteristics of luxury is rarity and when it is possible to find a product or brand all over it is not rare any longer, or this should the logic argument be.

kapferer I enjoy Prof. Kapferer because he has the knack for brands and luxury. In this article he actually explains what luxury is. I believe that he understands the term subconsciously and I have my doubt whether he paid attention to what he actually said. Here is the quote: “For centuries, luxury was limited to the happy few. It was the exclusive lifestyle of those in power: pharaohs; kings, queens, and their courts; and later merchants and industrialists. It was meant to express refined taste and impress crowds by the magnificence of the palaces, horse carriages, dresses, jewels, and so on.” It is a bit blurred but luxury is about unattainable dream. You can stay at Buckingham Palace but you’ll never turn into the Queen. All you can do is dreaming of it and that overnight staying allows you to dream more accurately. On the other hand, Ralph Lauren’s “value is created by prestigious retail stores made to resemble a mansion, materializing the American dream.” That’s the difference between prestige brands which allow people to materialize their dreams and true luxury which stay as a dream although it allow “excursionists” to experience how those legends live, sometimes on a regular basis and sometimes only for a short period. Luxury has a promise that you can enjoy the product and the brand but you’d never become the true elite – this will stay a dream.

Here is an example to what unfulfilled dreams are. In another publication of his, Strategic Brand Management, Prof. Kapferer points to that luxury brands, especially those named after the founder, Channel, Nina Ricci, YSL and so gain strength after the founder dies. Well, not always. However, Channel is a good example. Coco Channel did not create fashion – she was a fashion icon herself. She sold what she wore. You can buy a Channel outfit but you’ll never become Coco Channel, especially now when she died. That’s luxury.

Going to challenging issue of the above-mentioned article, it is clear that we need a psychological solution. Louis Vuitton, for example, would do best by promoting the legendary Louis who died long time ago. You cannot get his services for any price but you can dream on it. Louis Vuitton, the company would provide you with the closest-to-dream replica, you cannot get closer but you can have a more meaningful dream. If you hammer this message into people psyche you can mass sell your products. Irrational? Maybe but I believe that it will work.

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