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Has the marketing profession devalued the word ‘luxury’?

We work daily with a number of designer manufacturers who provide exclusive bespoke products into the stunning homes and palaces of the rich and famous. Their clients’ sectors are very broad, sometimes direct and sometimes through agents such as main building contractors, architectural practices and interior designers.

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There’s always someone with a bigger more luxurious boat!

Recently, in an interior designer web forum, one member asked the question ‘What is luxury’ and whether the word could be ‘reclaimed’ for the ID profession. One of the responders to the question, a bespoke interior product manufacturer himself, felt the word ’luxury’ had been denigrated by advertisers who used it in marketing parlance too frivolously (saying) “everything can be “luxury” these days, from teabags to dog blankets”.  So as a practice that indirectly supports this important group of purchasers, it seemed like a very reasonable question to ask and one which, as a marketer, I would expect to be able to contribute to. Having responded in the forum it seemed a sensible choice given our client base to extend the subject to our blog.

So, does the word no longer resonate the way it once did?

It’s true that we now only have to wander around the supermarket to find it referenced on numerous products from cakes to linens. Interior designers might therefore believe that advertisers (and marketers) have pushed the use of the word to such a level that it doesn’t resonate in some quarters the way that it once did. But is this down to advertisers and marketers adopting an overzealous or perhaps even ‘unethical’ use of the word, or for the past decade have this group to which I belong delivered on an opportunity for their employers?

In the ten years between 2004 and 2014 the western world has endured particularly difficult economic times. During this period the jobless figure in the UK rose from 1.44m (2004) to 2.33m (2014) and, at its peak in October 2011, stood at 2.68m (Source: ONS). Many in the marketing fraternity would say my colleagues in consumer markets have simply delivered on what they are paid to do, identify gaps in the marketplace for new affordable products to be developed and fill them.  Which side of the discussion you sit will be biased by your affective, conative or cognitive attitude.

So it’s ironic that the word ‘luxury’ can also be perceived in two ways dependent on your attitude. Derived from the Latin words luxus and luxuria, some will see it as extravagance a view that I feel has more positive connotations, whereas others will see it as excess and therefore biased towards the negative sense. So, one could argue that in applying the word ‘luxury’ to affordable items such as a packet of biscuits, marketers are removing the negative connotations from the word?

Thumbing through an old edition of the Collins Dictionary (1983), ‘Luxury’ was once defined simply as;

  1. The enjoyment of the best and most costly things
  2. Anything given such enjoyment, usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.

But with the word being used more broadly they have felt the need to include ‘sumptuous living’ and ‘indulgence’ to emphasise that it should refer to an infrequent pleasure;

  1. indulgence in and enjoyment of rich, comfortable, and sumptuous living
  2. (sometimes plural) something that is considered an indulgence rather than a necessity
  3. something pleasant and satisfying  – the luxury of independence
  4. (modifier) relating to, indicating, or supplying luxury

As marketers our job is to sell to those who can pay for the products we promote not those who can’t. Many marketers and advertisers are looking to build an allure, they are looking to tempt people to make the step-up to the next affordable level, whether that’s for chocolate or luxury yachts.

However, if we are selling extremely expensive, unusual, niche, rare, bespoke, unique, limited and exclusive products we simply describe them as such and allow the reader to decide for themselves if it is an item they truly desire or can afford. If you have to mention the word luxury on these products then the likelihood is that it isn’t! In selling the strengths there will always be clients who value what you offer regardless of price.

In next month’s blog we stay on this theme to talk about the notion of ‘Conspicuous Consumption’.

In the meantime, if you would like to respond to the comments in this blog post or talk to us about how we could help you promote and position your luxury products, please email me at marketing@genesisdm.co.uk.

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