Are Luxury Brands Copying Each other?

In advertising and promotion, styles and trends go through distinct phases.

For example, can you remember a time in the last 5 years when a sport or pay-per-view channel did not use mean, moody, sometimes monochrome pictures of opposing football managers or boxers often with their arms folded to promote a forthcoming event?

To quote the Merovingian from The Matrix Reloaded, sports promotion has become “so obvious, so bourgeois, so boring” in recent times.

But are luxury brands succumbing to the same fate with the presentation of themselves and their products and services?

Swimming with the stream

In his keynote speech at the Walpole Luxury Summit 2021, Nader Tavassoli spent 30 minutes making a very convincing argument that a similar trend is happening among luxury brand marketing teams as has happened at Sky Sports.

Mr Tavassoli is a branding expert. He is currently the sitting Professor of Marketing; Academic Director of The Hive and the London Business School. According to his bio on LBS’s website, he has “advised and taught executives from Internet and high-tech start-ups to over 30 Global Fortune 500 companies”.

In his lecture, he first examined the state of luxury watch promotion. Most current watch advertisements, whether in a newspaper or magazine, on social media, or in a video features an impossibly good-looking man or woman wearing a timepiece in a sunny, exotic location.

In consumers’ minds, argues Mr Tavassoli, this “swimming with the stream” approach achieves nothing for a brand because most will only remember that they’ve seen an advert for a watch – there’ll be no brand recollection whatsoever. 

So they’ll still think of Rolex first when they do think about watches because the advert they saw was not remarkable enough to create room in the consumer’s mind for another brand.

Brands need to be disruptive. As an example of disruptive advertising, he reminded attendees of the time when Bernie Ecclestone was mugged for his watch.

Mr Ecclestone sent his police mugshot to the head of Hublot. His battered face then appeared on the above advert with the tagline, “See what people will do for a Hublot”. Mr Tavassoli cites that this advert is “different, disruptive” and “goes to the core of the brand DNA, what the brand is actually about”.

What is Hublot’s brand DNA and what is the company all about? Their tagline is the “Art Of Fusion”.

The Ecclestone campaign, according to Mr Tavassoli, is an example of “fusion”.

It’s the successful marriage of two different elements which would not normally appear together nor define luxury. Just like their rubber and gold watch – no one expected that.

Mr Tavassoli compared Hublot’s decision to partner with Maradona who was, in his words, “a bit mad” to Rolex which chose Roger Federer who is “a great player but extremely boring in my book”. Who would associate Maradona with luxury? We might associate tennis with luxury but we don’t with football.

This partnership allowed Hublot to “own” football and the world of Maradona as parts of its branding expression – to lead the conversation about its brand.

Rounding off, Mr Tavassoli stated that Hublot does something different and something creative with their limited edition watches, their partnerships, and their advertising.

Using the following slides, he then compared similarities in whiskey advertising…

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…and for mascara…

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Here at Verb, we share his opinion and the examples he chose to illustrate his points were perfect.

So where does a luxury brand do now if it wants to be different?

The Future of Luxury Creative – according to Verb

In a presentation in December 2021, Amy Butterworth, creative strategist at VERB, provided insight to assembled delegates on the current creative landscape and she talked about how luxury brands can create successful content for the luxury market.

Amy opened the presentation with this slide…

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The “standard formula” is “A-list celeb, someone staring seductively into the camera, moody light, and then put your brand name over the top. Nothing is really ownable here. Nothing’s really authentic to the brand”.

Today, very little luxury brand content is distinguishable. Luxury brands are leaders and they should aim about being iconic in their self-presentation.

Consumer behaviours have begun to shift too and brands need to adapt. In recent years, most brands’ advertising has focused on the categories of products they’re promoting accompanied by little or no narrative on the brands themselves and what the brands represent. 

The most successful brand advertising at present posits products next to lifestyle and positive choices. Buying a particular luxury product is more than the joy of ownership, it’s a form of self-expression and aspiration. 

What role do influencers have to play in luxury advertising today?

There is still great value in partnering with influencers but, to many brand managers, “influencer” has become a dirty word.

Traditionally, influencers create beautiful, high-production imagery and videos but those images and videos are not always relatable to the consumer. 

There is a shift towards brands working with influencers for a wider reason – a synergy with a brand’s DNA.

Diversity, inclusion and equity are of significant importance to Gen Zers and younger Millennials. Some of the most eye-catching influencer campaigns mesh with social commentary, aspiration, and product placement.

Verb’s three pillars of creative success for luxury brands

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As with every good creative brief, brands need to think about what they are really trying to do – their objective.

This involves thinking about:

  • the channels that you appear on
  • your campaign KPIs
  • what goes into your funnel

Second, brand and product. Brands need to produce creative content authentic to who you are as a brand and which leverages your brand’s DNA. Your DNA includes your heritage, your founder story, and what’s novel and innovative about it.

And, finally, it’s about relevance to your audience. Think about getting inside the head of your consumer. What do they want? What are they engaging with? What are the moments of importance in their lives and how can you put your unique twist on that moment?

One example we liked of a brand taking this approach was Balenciaga at Paris Fashion Week in 2021…

Balenciaga sees its brand as bold and young. 

To drive awareness of its new line, they premiered a 10-minute episode of the Simpsons which took the pomp out of fashion in the way that a traditional catwalk couldn’t. 

The episode feature Marge Simpson wearing huge shoulder pads which made it difficult for her to get through a doorway as well as other members of the family experiencing other “malfunctions”.

This campaign was memorable, ownable, and shareable.

Content Framework: Hero, Hub, and Hygiene

“[A brand’s] new mission is to be nimble, think digital-first and achieve ever-faster speed to market”, according to McKinsey&Company. They continue “the (brands) that will succeed will have come to terms with the fact that in the new paradigm taking shape around them, some of the old rules simply don’t work.” 

We believe that brands should start with that bigger picture and boil the process down to create the types of memorable moments that get people talking.

Part of this is “hero” content – the big brand hitting piece of content that comes out once a year across all B2C channels for brand awareness and discovery.

The next type of content is hub content – regular (often monthly or bi-monthly) campaigns that both drive sales and leads to deeper brand engagement.

Last is hygiene content run weekly whose goal is customer retention. These are social media posts, blogs/articles, and SEO marketing.

Every piece of content created and distributed has to fit in with the whole marketing mix. Decide whether a piece of content belongs to the hero, hub, or hygiene category.

In summary

So, what does your future creative need to do to ensure that you’re a leading luxury brand and not just following the crowd?

You should be aware of the wider luxury category norms and dare to be bold, using your DNA to do something different.

Make sure that the creative is relevant to your audience and always put the objective at the heart of your campaign.

Think digital first with an omnichannel approach.

Create content to connect with your audience and not to advertise your brand category.

To understand how we can help grow your brand, please get in touch with us via our contact form, we can’t wait to hear from you!