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Luxury, With Grace

Offering a glitzy product with flamboyant packaging and an impressive brand name is no longer enough for today’s consumer. What are today’s luxe consumers looking out for?

Offering a glitzy product with flamboyant packaging and an impressive brand name is no longer enough for today’s conscious consumer. What are today’s luxe consumers looking out for?

Indulging in luxury brands is ingrained into them like a pair of gills in fish. Consumers of luxury products and services are becoming increasingly selective in how they allocate their spending budgets. They have all the buying power in the world and the interest is definitely there. But hold it. They are not impulsive or easily swayed anymore. They now give their purchase a second thought and are also becoming more aware of the price-quality ratio. Add to this their philanthropic expectations from the brand. Have money, enjoy life king size, but, ‘do good’ seems to be the latest mantra that these luxe consumers are following today.

Diptyque & (RED)Be good, do great
Ask Mrs Sangeeta Assomull, CEO, Marigold Group, what consumers expect from their preferred brands in terms of philanthropy and she is quick to revert that a consumer is encouraged to buy when a certain percentage of the sales goes towards a charitable cause. “It is their way of giving back to the society,” she said. Mr Abhay Gupta, Executive Director, Blues Clothing Company, says, “It is a thoughtful gesture to associate with a cause and part proceeds from the sale go for charity. The consumer feels galvanized to probably spend more with a feeling of benevolence.” Mr Neeraj Kanwar, Chairman & Managing Director, Apollo Tyres, said “Honesty, transparency and ethical practices above everything else would impact a consumer. Philanthropy should not be something that the brand is doing just to look good, but a long term association which will create value, resonating with the brand personality.”

Rahul Kapoor, Co-Founder of Excedo Luxuria, stressed on continuous sense of responsibility, and not just when a disaster strikes. He gives food for thought – prior to the earthquake in Japan, which brand actually did anything continuously for charity? “Post the strike, there were a zillion brands that created a special purse, scarf, necklace for ‘Japan’. Ethics is extremely important and brands should respect that,” he said.

Moving on to price, would these consumers be willing to pay any price for a product that a luxury brand has introduced for philanthropic causes? “When an auction or a silent bid is offered, then yes, I am willing to pay a price to a limit,” said Mrs Assomull. On a positive note, Mr Gupta shared that it was subjective, but if the product does aim at a social cause, the consumer would definitely be willing to spend more and go an extra step, than what the product is actually worth. Mr Kapoor says, “It is all dependent on the cause and the product that is being sold. There must be a certain degree of exclusivity to the product – not just a normal product redesigned and sold at a higher price.” Mr Kanwar, on the other hand, said, “A premium, yes, I would be willing to pay if it is a brand that truly appeals to me and a cause which I find justifiable. Basically, I need to be convinced that my money will make a difference in someone’s life. But ‘any price’, no, I don’t think so. To command that, it would truly have to be exceptional.”

I AM Foundation by Sushmita SenBase upwards
With a million brands supporting a million causes, the normal luxe consumer is bound to be whipped up in confusion. It may not make a huge difference to the buyer as long as he is contributing in some way and also fulfilling his luxury quota, but give a thought to the cause that you would like to support. On what basis do you decide how good a cause is for a luxury brand to participate in? According to Mrs Assomull, “Look out for the reputation that the philanthropic group holds in the society and also the fact that the credible ones are quite transparent, which helps luxury brands to decide on which ones to participate with.”

Mr Gupta advises going with the flow. “No cause is inconsequential. The point to focus on is how well the organization can utilize the proceeds in the most effective and transparent way. However, there are connections that brands find in specific causes. For example, a women’s brand would support a breast cancer awareness program.” he said.

Individuality is the key to Mr Kanwar who thinks what a brand would like to associate itself with is a call best left to them. “If I had to judge this, I would try to see if, one – the brand is truly serious about what it is doing, and two – is there a tangible difference that the brand is making or looking to make in the lives of others,” he explained.

Still confused? Mr Kapoor has the answer. “It simply comes down to how many people does the cause help? Does being partnered with a luxury brand increase the charity’s awareness or is the charity already a larger firm. Generally I tend to look at the smaller and more specialist charities with a more empathic eye,” he said.

Show some support
Picking a cause that you would love to support and then consciously basing your shopping needs on them could be quite a task. But if had to pick, Mrs Assomull said, “As a woman, wife and a mother, I am always inclined to support causes for underprivileged children and also for women empowerment. I have personally hosted philanthropic luxury exhibitions, where part of the proceeds were contributed to Sushmita Sen’s foundation – IAM.”

Mr Kanwar prioritizes human health and believes that it is the most precious thing that we own and that precise learning or education is what can make a huge difference in any individual or community’s life. “Causes for the women, children and the disenfranchised are causes that I believe are most worthy of taking up, since I then have the potential to make a real difference in someone’s life.” Carrying this thought further, Mr Gupta said, “I would personally support any cause which helps the girl child in need. Need could be shelter or books or good living. Eventually, women recreate human beings. If society is good to them, they pay back with better human beings.”

Coming closer to home, Mr Kapoor said, “It would be great to support a charity that dealt with caste discrimination, corruption and social education. Currently, in India, these three faults create hurdles when trying to grow as a nation. Being a NRI, I appreciate the beauty and opportunities India has to offer. But till everyone is educated on social responsibilities and corruption is decreased, if not halted, our nation will suffer.”

Ben Stiller for Bvlgari Save the ChildrenAnd the award goes to
With a million luxury brands doing a variety of activities that vie for our attention, pick and choose wisely. A quick look at these luxe consumers’ top picks for the luxury brand that they think is at the forefront when it comes to giving back to the society in style, shows that these brands sure know what they are aiming for.

On a general note, brands such as AmEx, Apple, Armani and Diptyque, associated with (RED) come to Mr Kapoor’s mind immediately. “If really asked, the Apple (RED) initiative to fight aids in Africa was a wonderful one and shows how brands are becoming aware of global issues and trying their best to make a difference. If I had to give a more recent example, the Being Human and HDIL India Couture Week campaign has my vote!” he said.

Surprisingly enough, Mr Kanwar said, “It is unfortunate, but I can’t recall a single luxury brand working dedicatedly towards a cause or undertaking any social responsibility initiatives. May be it has been done and the brands have chosen not to speak about it – though that is a little hard to believe! If I really jog my memory, only Bulgari’s Save The Children campaign comes to my mind. Again, am not sure how this has evolved.”

For all those Versace fans, you will be glad to know that the brand’s work has included breast cancer campaigns and glitzy museum fundraisers. “Versace has also worked towards the benefit of children – victims of the colossal earthquake that decimated the Sichuan region of China in 2008. Versace One Foundation, which has funded a pair of children’s centers, stocked with schoolteachers as well as doctors, to help kids in Sichuan deal with post-traumatic stress, is another initiative undertaken by the Versace Group,” said Mr Gupta.

So the next time you are out pampering yourself, give yourself a chance to pamper someone else in the slightest way possible. A word of advice for luxury brands – with the power and reach that you have, make a difference and give back to the society – the luxe way!