Flying Seraph

When The Homeless Wear Prada

A number of years ago, George Clements, a fabulous Planning Director, retired.

He’d been with the same Ad Agency a long time. He’d been to loads of their conferences over the years. It was customary for delegates to be given a new company-branded shirt/sweater etc. almost every time.

Upon retiring, he had a clean-out and gave a lot of stuff to charity.

He swore blind that – all of a sudden – a large number of homeless Toronto residents could be spotted walking around in JWT-branded clothing.


Which must have looked like his creative department had all retired at once 🙂

This led me to think about the difference between a brand being widely known and respected – Fame – and the brand being widely used.

So I wanted to encourage you to think about how Luxury Brands, in particular, manage this balance.

In my early days in the game, the rough rule of thumb was: you want everyone to know about a luxury brand, including how ‘out of reach’ it is (increases the cachet for owners). And how only a ‘special few’ actually get to have it, so the brand isn’t tainted by poor user imagery.

More recently, we’ve seen a large number of luxury brands behaving less like niche players. Offering themselves to all and sundry. Admitting people who couldn’t previously own them. Some by defining clear tiers: Mercedes S, E, C, & B classes or Burberry’s Bespoke, Prorsum, London and Brit, for example – where exclusivity is retained at the top end.

Because brand meaning follows the laws of gravity – travelling downward easily and upward – well – hardly ever.

Or simply providing product at entry-level price points: hence the increasingly ubiquitous Tiffany key ring, among others.

They balance mass sales with establishing and maintaining brand meaning at the ‘upper end’.

It is a constant internal struggle – chasing short-term sales growth vs preserving the sense of specialness that the brand requires.

It is not easy.

It is constantly tempting to let a sales focus override a brand focus – ‘today’s sales’ skewing the marketing effort to high volume items. It is hard to make the case that the Important – long-term brand value – should supersede Urgent – today’s numbers.

You might get away with it as a tactic.

For a short time.

But the moment short term, mass sales dominates your strategy, your luxury brand’s centre of gravity shifts lower. Its meaning and specialness are diluted and slowly trashed.

Before you know it, your once special brand looks like some poor unfortunate in a JWT shirt.

Lost its rightful place and sporting a logo that is practically ironic.

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