Luxury Brands: The 1% Solution (2)

[May 8, 2012] 

If you’re like me and your only contact with “luxury” is a once-in-a-blue-moon upgrade at Holiday Inn—it may take you a few minutes to catch on to the thinking behind a luxury product site. You might, understandably, believe such sites are aimed at people with substantial wealth, but you’d be only half right. The more time I spend at luxury brand sites, the more I realize their primary audience is people with an inexhaustible yearning for an unreachable fantasy world.

It’s a world where wealth is taken for granted and its only function is as a portal to a rarefied, value-neutral adventurism. To be clear, my assessment is not a criticism, simply an observation. While the fantasy life of one-seventh of the world’s population more likely revolves around getting enough to eat, we can hardly deny devotees of Prada and Cartier the freedom to enjoy a little quiet time with their own preoccupations.

And what preoccupations they are, at least as viewed through the lens of advertising and marketing. Fantasy being an elusive creature, one of the most interesting aspects of these sites, from a technical point of view, is the way some luxury brands use content in its broadest sense to engage its audience.

Off the nose.
The approach taken at Jaguarusa.com offers an example. In case you hadn’t heard, Jaguar has moved on from the musty traditions of the past. Yet without so much as a blink in the direction of the horribly misguided Oldsmobile campaign, dating from the late 1980s, Jaguar still manages to say, “This is not Your Lordship’s Jaguar.”

Jaguar’s success resides in its ability to distinguish between text and subtext in a branded narrative. Instead of slapping you in the nose with a tagline leaving nothing to imagination, Jaguar repositions itself through a series of interviews with an esoteric array of global trendsetters. The risk here, as always, is with striking a false note by selecting spokespeople your audience is “so over.” Taken at face value, however, Jaguar’s gamble pays off.

For here are hip-hop video director Dr. Teeth and two other off-beat celebrity endorsers, linking the Jaguar brand to their core values through “Backseat Stories.” As members of the neo-multicultural elite, their association with what used to be a quintessentially British product says more than any slogan by making an intimate emotional connection with the viewer. While the site does include features common to comparable vehicle sites, the fantasy continues with the rich array of design options.

Ultimately, the site transforms a “timeless” artifact into a product a select few can enjoy—in a world now infused with recent trends. Emerging from the site at various points, the question “How alive are you?” has resonance it could never attain if plastered across a standard-issue home page marquee.

“Get to the point—make it short and sweet,” a harried creative operative hears 27 hours a day. And yet, at Jaguar.com, the virtues of a slow, quiet roll out of the big message, end-accented with a mildly provocative headline, belies this smug vendor’s-wisdom..

On the money.
The goings on at Prada.com are of a very different order, though the underlying intent, an indirect appeal to its audience’s fantasy-hugging inner nature, is much the same. In this case, a branded site becomes a virtual playground with dozens of video entertainments that have little to do with actually hawking wares. 

What the site sells, instead, is a sensibility—and the association of that sensibility with self-satisfaction. With its vivid realization of a shifting, kaleidoscopic sense-scape, Prada brings the illusions of “perfection” and “distinction” to life, in a warm validation of narcissism.

“You’re narcissistic and that’s OK,” the site seems to say, “because everything you love about yourself is true. People envy you, and they should.” A five-minute click-through of just three of the home page tabs, say, Projects, Fragrances or the Prada Book gallery of mood pieces is enough to pitch Prada as the purveyor of extraordinary experiences. Of course, if your next stop after viewing this site is a trip to Target to get your kids ready for summer camp, the Prada magic is liable to fade fast. But this is targeting at its most knowing—knowing full well its audience has a license to linger.

Here again, in a niche where nothing but the best will do, we see branding at its purest, utterly divested of price points, gotcha come-ons and “strong calls to action.” As the inner monologues of the Eyewear tab illustrate, your ability to position your brand deep inside your customer’s self-image is a far more lasting inducement to buy—and buy into—your message.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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