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Luxury Branding

The Anti-Laws Of Luxury Marketing #9

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#9. The role of advertising is not to sell.

Look at Tag Heuer’s advertising. One side features the endorsing celebrity, the other the model of watch. No commentary, no description of the watch, no sales pitch – just the cryptic line: ‘What are you made of?’

Nothing is more alien to traditional marketing than this declaration; in traditional marketing the first step is  to discover a sales proposal, to have a unique selling proposition  – the text is there to make the sales pitch. In luxury, the dream comes first. The explanations of the salesmen are simply post-rationalizations. If you go to a Tag Heuer shop you are handed a thick brochure the size of a book, which says everything there is to say about the Tag Heuer brand, its origins, its finely tuned processes, respectful of a unique design, etc. Then it goes on to describe the various models, one by one…

If you go to a Porsche dealer they will talk to you about racetracks, about road-holding, about everything that feeds the myth of the hero, after which they will tell you about reliability, etc – by way of post-rationalization. American society being what it is essentially compels people to justify spending dollars by adducing qualities that can be presented publicly by the owner of a luxury item, even if it is the dream that is the major selling point. The purchaser of an impressionist masterpiece could say that it’s a good investment.

Interviewed about his role, the head of BMW in the USA replied that with its customers trading up, and the collective aspiration of the younger drivers, BMW’s sales target for the following year had already been 90 percent met virtually automatically. Did that mean that he would have nothing to do then? His reply was simple, direct, and highly illuminating: ‘My job is to make sure that the 18-year-olds in this country decide that, as soon as they have the money, they will be buying a BMW. I have to see to it that when they go to bed at night they are dreaming of BMW.’

Of course, advertising as such is not the lever for the BMW dream, merely its ally. Advertising feeds on a sustained myth, mystery, magic, racing, highly people-centered but private shows, product placement, and art – as mentioned above, an extremely important element for any luxury brand.

In 2004 BMW asked several great Hollywood directors to each make a film about BMW, not a commercial for screening on different television channels, but a real film lasting several minutes, for which they were given completely free rein. These films were to be broadcast exclusively on the internet. They were an instant hit – these so-called viral films did the rounds of everyone who dreamed about, loved or was interested in BMW. What is more, all this heightened the buzz, gave the brand a fresh and modern look, something that even the most classic brand needs to have.

The dream must always be recreated and sustained, for reality kills the dream. Every time a flesh-and-blood human being buys a luxury product they destroy a little bit of the equity, they increase the product’s visibility – and contribute to its vulgarization by putting it in the public eye. The opposite applies when marketing everyday goods: there is an advantage for the market leader, for the dominant market share, and therefore for maximum visibility – it becomes a reassuring purchase.

Excerpted in part from: The Luxury Strategy: Break The Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands by JN Kapferer and V. Bastien, in partnership with Kogan Page publishing.

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1 Comment

Doug Miller on October 05th, 2009 said

Great article. But remember, authenticity is still critical. In today’s world of social engagement, it is impossible for a brand to stand behind false claims. Social “communication” leads to transparency — brands making false claims will be outed.

The author cited Porsche as an example: “If you go to a Porsche dealer they will talk to you about racetracks, about road-holding, about everything that feeds the myth of the hero.”

This is not a myth. As a Porsche owner, I know that many Porsche owners do, in fact, drive their cars on race-tracks. In fact, I put over 100 track miles on mine last Friday, along with many other Porsche owners. The opportunity exists for Porsche buyers to truly experience their cars on the track if they want to.

So the discussion about race-tracks is authentic. It represents a realistic opportunity for Porsche buyers to play with their toy & experience the thrill of pushing their car to the limit.

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