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The Democratization of Luxury

Luxury marketing poses a variety of questions, especially when it comes to targeting a melting pot such as India. But, are we changing the nature of luxury due to that?

India is a unique market for brands in more ways than the obvious. Heritage, quality and cultural consciousness is something all international brands, especially in the premium and luxury segments, have had to imbibe. Though one country geographically, cultures and mindsets are vastly different from North to South and East to West. Some brands came in with the right partners and learnt these crucial lessons early while others are now re-strategizing their second, or at times even third, India entry plans. One way or the other, no one can take away the potential of this largest consuming population after China.

However, this piece is not about the obvious market understanding and differentiation. I’m amused about another phenomenon that has been bubbling under while India makes its mark as the next big global luxury brand destination.

DLF Emporio, New Delhi, India luxury mall

Intrinsically, all of us luxury professionals know that when marketing luxury, the key philosophy is ‘Less is More’. By its very definition, luxury has to be slightly unattainable, discreet and elusive. Agree? If everyone has access to it, how, pray, is it a luxury good or experience!

Now see how brands market luxury in India. It is totally and diametrically opposite to the traditional, time-tested concept of ‘less is more’.  We’ve seen luxury brands splashed across hoardings at busy intersections, city supplements of dailies and large events; pinged into our phones via SMSes; and God! The many e-mails on a daily basis!

It is pretty much the same channels of communication as any other brand in the mass consumption category. So what makes luxury brands in India more valuable? I keep thinking about this every so often. But then this is also how we need to educate and inform the rich who are yet unexposed in many regions of the vast land, that these objects of desire are available at a store or city near them. The numbers will come from there. Brands are hence eyeing markets such as India to tap into the vast multitudes of the rich. How to get to this consuming population is the challenge.

Now lets see how some successful luxury brands market themselves globally. Hermes’ believes in a waiting-line approach to its iconic Birkin bags. You could have the money but that does not mean you can walk into a Hermes boutique and get a Birkin. You have to place your intent to buy and wait your turn, which could take months. That, in my mind, is exclusive. Or take the example of a Canali Made to Measure suit. The master tailor visits boutiques across the globe on appointment with key clients of the brand. Eight weeks post this personal appointment the Made to Measure suit arrives, 100% made in Canali’s exclusive factories in Italy. That is another form of waiting list to me and hence a slightly exclusive experience.

Hermes Ostrich Birkin Bag

Also trends have happened in the annals of history when higher classes started them and later they trickled down to the masses. Once the masses embraced that ‘trend’, the classes stopped. Higher-status people abandon the trend because it has become popular among the lower status, and the next cycle of imitation and abandonment begins.

So on one hand, we are the land of the Maharajas where every thing was custom made for the classes, on the other, the so called new-Maharajas are standing in line with every Tom and Harry inside a mixed mall buying luxury! With the exception of DLF Emporio in New Delhi every other mall housing luxury brands is mixed use, where you’ll have a Zara store close to Burberry. Odd as it may sound, but this is the great Indian luxury paradox.

While there is no conclusion to this argument, each brand has to tailor make their own strategy for this diverse nation. I think we present to the world a most interesting case study on the massization, nay, should I say, the democratization of luxury?