Luxury Brands: The 1% Solution (1)

[April 22, 2012] 

As I see it, an exploration of luxury brands is an instructive way to clarify what “branding” actually means. Not because the products themselves are so meaningful, fabulous—or even useful. What they are is wow-inducing. And right there is the bedrock of sustainable branding.

Luxury brands tend to understand the value of high concept advertising precisely because, as purveyors of abominably expensive products, they simply can’t go the route followed by coupon-pushing, limited-time, hurry-while-supplies-last marketers. Buy an Alfa-Romeo “on sale” and the delicious experience of flaunting your wealth is shot to Hell.

Besides, a large sector of the luxury brand audience, the chronically insecure, are addicted to the easy validation they achieve with a simple purchase. The small minority with a genuine appreciation for craftsmanship, style and design—to say nothing of engineering—have most likely migrated away from the flashiest / Kardashianest glitter.

Ultimately, the real target of the commonly-known luxury brands are people with an unquenchable thirst for acceptance and a guileless affection for “pretty things.” This is not a crowd prone to congregating around the bargain table.

The illusion of exclusivity.
Ironically, the most successful “exclusive” brands have a large constituency of me-too club members. Luxury shoppers are simply paying more for the same snug feeling of belonging that you can get by shopping name brands at Target.

Needless to say, that “members-only” experience can’t be had by simply slapping the words “Members Only” on your logo. In a case of life stubbornly refusing to imitate art, the cachet the Members Only brand has achieved has nothing to do with its name. Its success lies in its ability to dimensionalize itself through celebrity product placement / word of mouth / etc.

Add to that their “limited edition” gambit and you can see how much more there is to branding than color swatches, font choices and draconian rules regarding how to form “the logo lockup.” Click the “Famous Members” tab at MembersOnlyOriginal and see this direct transfer of cachet into cache-drawer in action.

In a far more pedestrian arena, I’m reminded of Ikea, whose blue polypropylene bags are a concrete example of brand-dimensionalization. Like it or not, the fact that I lug my laundry in one or two such bags each week, means the Ikea brand is now part of my everyday life.

In its own way, the Ikea bag is a badge of community membership as surely as the Rolex logo. Just don’t expect to get a premium table at Daniel with one of those babies slung over your shoulder. Because the key to luxury branding is letting your audience know exactly what kind of members-only club they now have access to. With that in mind, let’s have a look at one of America’s most wanted product lines.

A mirror for the beautiful, smart and the over-extended.
Rolex.com does a fine job of matching the Rolex brand tone. The not too glittery design palette conveys grace with an undercurrent of excitement. They who wear a Rolex, the site tells us, are as ready for action as they are for contemplating their own “beautiful people“ status in the mirror.

Meanwhile, the potential of digital space to deliver encyclopedic depth on demand allows the site to celebrate the many ways Rolex has dimensionalized its brand offline. The wide array of sports / culture sponsorships and philanthropy photo-ops is quite staggering. In the face of this, anyone who believes that digital marketing has completely eclipsed all other media needs to reconsider.

At the same time, this very breadth is compromised on the site by a series of mini-blurbs so predictable they must surely have been written by a piece of copywriting software; most likely, a program designed to help writers “be innovative and interesting, vary [their] vocabulary and make [their] writing look professional“—even if the most professional attribute writers need is the ability to write their own copy.

Checking the “dedication-to-the-highest-quality” box.
An obligatory section on “quality craftsmanship” that touts the brand’s origins in “the European tradition” rounds out the branded message Rolex wishes to convey. Luckily, the typically stilted prose about the brand’s history is successfully offsite by gorgeous product shots designed to create lust in the heart of every materialist. Irreverent snickers aside, the site does a fine job of matching the product line’s brand tone.

As I continue to traverse the silk road of luxury product marketing, I’ll have more to say about the “uses of enchantment” at work, as luxury brands continue to fan the flames of desire on so many levels.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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