Below is an interpretation of insights from class discussions about luxury branding, during our exchange programme at ESCP.
What does Hitler have to do with Luxury Brands? As we learnt from Prof. Benoit Heilbrunn at ESCP – a leading authority on luxury branding, quite a bit.
Louis Vuitton store in Paris
Stand for Nothing Hitler, had mastered the art of contradictory messaging which meant he could espouse two contradictory viewpoints simultaneously, so that no one could oppose him. Till date, his ideology on many aspects such as religion is unknown. Apparently, luxury brands face much the same dilemma today – the need to tread opposing philosophies. E.g. Luxury brands need to be visible to create aura, yet at the same time they need to be exclusive to maintain that desirability. It is this tension between “Profusion” and “Scarcity” that needs to be managed delicately. In fact today true luxury brands seek a status – “where a brand can stand for nothing” and yet be desirable. Example being the hugely successful – “Be Stupid” campaign by Diesel. It’s not logical – it really doesn’t mean anything by way of messaging, yet has been a phenomenal success with consumers.
Diesel – “Be Stupid”
Second, Hitler understood that to reduce opposition he needed to simplify language – so he eliminated almost a third of the words from the German dictionary. Luxury brands need to imbibe this lesson – simplifying the message, so that it cuts across to consumers with least resistance. Apple and Steve Jobs have been a great proponent of this need for simplicity – “Talk less, convey more”.
Luxury Branding vs Traditional Marketing
Prof Benoit, delved into how “luxury branding” is drastically different from “marketing”. Where marketing is more about understanding consumer needs, luxury branding really takes more the stance of an artist – where you create something desirable and then leave to consumers whether they like it or not. However, the message and stance of luxury brand should be coherent. Hermes is a great example – which weaves all it’s communication around its history and equestrian theme. The original Hermes logo, palette, and fonts have remain unchanged with time – the classic Duc Carriage with Horse logo, and the “Hermes orange” packaging are iconic and legendary. Therefore, at Hermes stores – consumers either love it, or outrightly reject it.
In summary, luxury branding is more an art – creating “desirability” being the single key theme. Maslow’s hierarchy and logical notions, have a little role to play in luxury management. Too much influence of science in cultures, results in dis-enchantment and a downfall. Art in contrast brings richness and magic and is the essence of luxury.
Desirability can be viewed along 3 dimensions:-
Traditional Legitimacy – Most valuable luxury brands – leverage their lineage – e.g Hermes – founded 1837, Goyard – since 1792. Creating true luxury brands, demands time and patience – a luxury brand cannot be created overnight. The craftsmanship and long heritage distinguish some of the most coveted luxury marques from the luxury upstarts.
Goyard – since 1792
Charismatic Legitimacy – which creates desirability by associating with charisma of its founders – Coco Chanel, to wear Chanel No 5 shows to the world that not only are you a luxury consumer, but you’re a part of Coco Chanel’s story. Ditto for brands like Armani, Gucci, Dior – each associate strongly with founder’s image.
Imagery steeped in Coco Chanel
Scientific Legitimacy – Used much less in luxury branding, it seeks to create competitive advantage through a scientific legitimization of superiority of product characteristics/attributes.
So ultimately “luxury” is about creating “Distance” or “Exclusivity” – primarily through 5 dimensions.
Distance through space – Luxury brands like Prada buy costly retail space in Tokyo, New York and Paris – yet leave a significant amount of that space empty, because it conveys power.
Prada Epicentre in Tokyo – Empty Space with costliest real estate
The Sac à Depeche crocodile skin briefcase from Hermès of Paris is one of the famed French luxury goods house’s most coveted and exclusive items. The Sac à Depeche in crocodile remains available by special order – with a 4-5 year waiting list.!
Distance through exclusivity- Luxury brands go a great distance to maintain exclusivity. In 2013, Ferrari were worried that they were selling too many cars, as the sales were so high they were concerned it had become too attainable. Therefore they had to reappraise their supply model, and decided to actually cut production to maintain exclusivity.
Ferrari – Less is More.
Distance through Abstraction – In luxury branding, the focus is on abstraction to the extent of actually making the consumer forget the form. It is for this reason that luxury cannot be restricted to a particular sector or industry. Laduree, Pierre Hermes, Jean Paul Heavin are examples of success in chocolates and pastries; Goyard with suitcases, Nespresso with coffee and Renova with something as banal as toilet paper.
Renova – Luxury Toilet Paper ?
Jean-Paul Hevin – Artisan choclatier
Celebrities and brand ambassadors Lastly, the discussion veered around how strong luxury brands don’t need a celebrity spoke-person, and even when they do use one – the focus should be more on the brand and less on the celebrity itself. A classic example being the LVMH Madonna campaign, where the highlight is LVMH and Madonna is more an ambassador.