Branding luxury

At first, this article might sound like a book review, but actually, it is about a miserable experience of mine and a much-welcomed solution. Here’s how the story goes.

Years ago, my then-employer wanted to publish a sector-specific “best brands” survey. Our plan was to choose a couple of sectors (or verticals), determine the top 10 brands in each vertical, and then conduct interviews with industry experts. “Solid plan!” we thought.

We decided that luxury should be one of our verticals. My job was to determine the best luxury brands in Canada. All I had to do was to come up with a laundry list of luxury brands. We would then use our collective judgment to select the top 10 from the list. Sounds straightforward right? Well, I thought it would be child’s play. But what followed was months of research, an ever-changing list, and escalating frustration, which ultimately lead us to abandon the project. We simply agree on what luxury was!

Luxury is one of those concepts that we often use but seldom define.

Luxury is one of those concepts that we often use but seldom define. As soon as I started compiling the list of luxury brands, I realize that the meaning of luxury differed drastically from individual to individual. For instance, without a doubt, a Ferrari F12berlinetta is a luxury. So, Ferrari had to make it to our list. But, for the majority of Canadians, an Audi Q7 is also a luxury car. If we were to include Audi, then how could we leave BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus out? Where do you draw the line?


Here is another example. A $100,000 Hermes bag is a luxury item. But, should that automatically grant a spot to that brand on our list? After all, I can’t afford to buy such a bag, but I can easy buy a bottle of Terre d’Hermes for $50. If affordability is a key pillar of luxury, then which product better represents the brand Hermes? As you see, the concept of luxury is so vast and so subjective that I thought it was impossible to draw clear lines… until I read Manfredi Ricca and Rebecca Robins’ insightful book Meta-luxury. Luckily, now my view to luxury have changed fundamentally.

Ricca and Robins have spent years understanding the meaning of luxury. I think what they did is much more than an analysis: They discovered the archetypal meaning of luxury. I won’t give away too much detail, but it is safe to say that the authors clearly defined the four pillars of luxury. Furthermore, for each pillar, they identified three levels of strategy. The framework is so clear that -in my mind- so many brand decisions become a no-brainer.

For instance, should you use “Since…” as part of your brand signature? When does it make sense to use “Made in…”? Should you extend into different categories? If so, what should be your criteria? These might be complex questions, but surprisingly, the answers are not that complicated once you read Meta-Luxury.

Should you use “Since…” as part of your brand signature?

When does it make sense to use “Made in…”?

I worked with a variety of brands: B2B, B2C, government, NGO, destination, etc. That said, I always thought that luxury was a category on its own. That’s why it is crucial to learn about the Meta-luxury pillars and levels. Only then you can see that not every luxury brand has to be the same as there are degrees of meaning.

The key take away from Meta-luxury is that in luxury, just as in life, there aren’t any silver bullets. Volume is not evil, just as rarity is not a limitation. Success comes to those luxury brands that deliver on all four pillars and be consistent with their level.

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4 Replies to “Branding luxury”

  1. If the the word \Luxury’ cannot be easily defined as it means different things to different people, then like the Star-bucks & alcohol we talked about 2 or 3 years back (which comes in a good case study), you need to let the target audience define the word.

    A survey to Canadians on that word is the first point of call. Let them be the ones to build up your list then follow up on the interview. Am sure it will be a big debate in Canada.

    Hope that helps?

    1. I would assume such research had been conducted, but usually when you ask such an open ended question to the masses, what you get tends to be bland. The book I refer to goes to the heart of the topic and then shows levels, which I really liked.

  2. probably have to find a way to make the research experience informal or social. Am having the same problem with my own research especially with women, but when I use persuasion, they tend to push themselves to answer.

    guess psychologically they ask themselves why a male (no pun intended) even if he is a friend has to give them a …. job.

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