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Seduction by hypnotic subtlety

The emerging Indian Luxury Industry and how to avoid stepping into the chasm between exclusive and ordinary

The whiff of Luxury

Luxury brands continually emit an alchemy of aristocratic simplicity, loud subtlety, understated spontaneity. The intensity of the allure of luxury swells if ownership is lean and restricted at one end and the thirst to possess is unadulterated and lusty at the other. The super rich can afford the luxury they desire. But what adds greatly to the desirability is not being able to get it. Genuine rarity and unattainability has a particular powerful persuasive appeal. To be and to remain exclusive, the price of admission must be arduous and testing. Entry to the club must be restricted to a few but desired by many. Greater the barriers to access greater the magnetism of the offering. This emotional luxurious gratification derived from exclusivity that provides a deep seated need to feel valuable and worthy is made available through a varied means fine art, rare fine wine, or the unattainable watch, language, knowledge In every economy there is a super elite - the top 2-3% of the population in terms of affluence. In a wealthy country the width and depth of this slice is huge vis--vis in a poor country. However given the universal human desire to be the blue sheep, people around the world find their own unique way. Culture, social order, political ideology, economic potency all play a role in molding what defines exclusivity. And as people and economies alter, these forces continuously mutate, forming newer constituents and expressions.

The English Club

The English language became the admission ticket to enter the luxurious world of taste, intellect and power. At the stroke of the midnight hour Jawaharlal Nehrus tryst with destiny speech was in English. Millions of Indians sensed the fervor and excitement of the moment however the historic well crafted speech was to million of spellbound Indians incomprehensible.

Perhaps the reason Pandit Nehru chose English was to demonstrate that he belonged to an elite exclusive white club. A club ensconced and sheltered with exclusivity that few could enter and most were covetous off. To rule and administer India and Indians, the British created a band of native elite Indian by birth but English in culture. By doing so the English language became the admission ticket to enter the luxurious world of taste, intellect and power. English speaking Intelligentsia lived in their own cocooned hermetic world, away from the masses. And a dominant symbol of their superior tribe was the English language. The English language had begun to represent control and presented the carrier with characteristics of a superior natural leader. Perhaps Panditji was, by opting in for the Queens language, declaring that New India had a distinguished, learned leader. Even today one does come across an up market anglicized lady condescendingly shrieking at the lowly disoriented scooter walla and admonishing him with a volley of chaste rapidfire English while he stares at her in bewilderment and awe. She uses this exclusive weapon to show him his place by showing him her place. With the rapid spread of English across India, particularly in the last decade, the Queens Language has begun to loose its upper class pomposity. It is ironical but She has been crushed and flattened by the more unifying egalitarian Hinglish a language attractive to the masses and at the same time hip for the upper class. Today we routinely speak in English (or Hinglish) with the shop attendant and assume that he could be engaged in a Hinglish conversation. Today English is in the cusp of mass luxury - the chasm between exclusive and ordinary as it finds its way into the belly of India, the process of democratization has begun.

The luster of education

Hunger for exclusivity was quelled not through material aquisitiveness but via education and profession and an image of refinement that was associated with it. In the early days the penniless Brahmin the reservoir and guardian of knowledge - was on top of our social heap. Membership to this privileged (and influential) class was restricted by birth and subsequently by knowledge. The acquisition of this knowledge was increasingly confined to Brahmins. The Brahmin symbolised mind over matter a combination of knowledge and austerity a virtue that was difficult to attain and consequently considered attractive. During the age of innocence (the fifties and early sixties) wealth and its brazen display was not prized. Even amongst the haves, the awkwardness of flaunting it and was high. Materialistic exhibitionism was scorned and consequently kept under check. Perhaps this was due to social sensitivity towards the glaring

poverty all around. Perhaps Gandhji and his ideals had a role to play in shaping this view. As the unfounded idealism and impracticality of abstinence became clearer to people, asceticism as a virtue dramatically reduced however the practicality of education survived as desirable. The role of caste began to diminish and education as the common thread that bound together a pan Indian elite group began to grow. Net net luxuries and the lust to possess inanimate objects of desire - things that your peers covet and cannot attain - was not developed. We as people were content to live in a continuous state of denial. Hunger for exclusivity was quelled not through material aquisitiveness but via education and profession and an image of refinement that was associated with it.

Money and its acquisitive power - the new social order


Aristocracy of wealth began to replace the aristocracy of education and profession that had replaced the aristocracy of birth. The mid to late eighties (the era of Rajiv Gandhi) gave birth to a generation untouched by the idealism of the freedom struggle. They saw Rajiv Gandhi through the prism of their own needs and an overall sense of un met optimism began to simmer. For the first time there was a growing self realization that self interest was a decent enough cause. The liberalization policies of the nineties freed Indians from the pretense of any notion of restraint, the professed bias for the poor was over, material wants were severed from any notion of guilt and consumerism was sanctified. The new social order - money and its manifestations raised its attractive head, and very quickly and briskly spread through the lifeblood of Indian society. Aristocracy of wealth began to replace the aristocracy of education and profession that had replaced the aristocracy of birth. In India lifes food processor was in full churn mixing together all the key influences - social, economic, cultural... and the resultant compound created an environment that was unfamiliar in content and unprecedented in magnitude. The first enticing energetic onslaught came in the form of mass consumer offerings cars, fashion, toiletries, entertainment, consumer electronics, two wheelers, alcohol, packaged food. In the beginning we did behave like kids in a candy store, our eyes darting at each new magic box. The second wave, was in the slicing and splintering of each category into slivers gaps in the market that were spotted that marketers attempted to make mainstream. The third wave, a consequence of the second wave, was an effort to create a luxury Industry. However most luxury and badge brands were slow to take off.

Success had probably more to do with the inherent value of the product offering and the fit with Indian needs, values & lifestyles and not really with the badge of foreign-ness. For many entrants it was a sobering down effect - a realization that the market could not be skimmed, but had to be patiently developed. The impatient either withdrew or broad based and were sacrificed on the altar of so-called mass luxury.

The chasm between exclusive and ordinary


A burning-glass is a large convex lens that can concentrate the sun's rays onto a small area, heating up the area and thus resulting in ignition of the exposed surface. In their yearning to keep the party going, a number of upscale brands that genetically need to continuously focus and concentrate, surrender to the greed gene, weaken and are ultimately sacrificed on the altar of growth. This act of hara-kiri is unfortunately a universal trait. The developed world is speckled with examples of this slow process of self immolation. Over the years the allure of both Jaguar and Mercedes diminished and the luxury position was seized by Maybach, Bentley and others that have continued to underline quality and exclusivity over price. In fashion, Burberry, Gucci.. have become almost affordable luxuries. Gucci in the eighties began to indiscriminately license its brand and the exclusivity charisma buckled. Today Gucci is largely sold in exclusive stores however the damage in the mind has happened. Burberry increased access and availability the results were similar. Even today Tiffany vacillates between retaining a small loyal band of up scale devotees who feel unique, special and worthy vs. a larger number of customers. In the late 1990s, Tiffany started making affordable jewelry. Expectedly and much to the delight of the Management, It pulled in customers in droves. Unfortunately Tiffanys loyal upper-crust aficionados moved away. Very quickly it attempted to make amends with its luxury customers it created distinct sectors within the store for the rich and the relative poor. Most Luxury Brands that surrender to the greed gene swing precariously between anxiety and greed - and after much debate and deliberation arrive at similar strategic paths create distinct spaces for the two segments or spasmodically launch the Limited Edition. By its very word assembly, limited editions appeal is in its being scarce and precious and consequently enticing. Like in many things, in the beginning this practice of releasing limited editions tickled a consumers desire to stand out. Today we have a limited edition of McDonald's Happy Meal, limited edition Innova painted black, limited edition Microsoft Zune, limited edition Sony Audio, limited edition Beatles book, limited edition Lenovas Marketers,

united in their collective desire to milk the brand have unwittingly injected an overdoze and slayed the goose that layed the golden egg. The obviousness of this oxymoron - if many can acquire what was once rare and precious how can it retain an enigmatic magical magnetism? - does seem like such an obvious thing not to do however as Sherlock Homes remarked - the world is full of obvious things that nobody by chance ever observes

The Indian Luxury Industry

The floor seems to have been lifted, but the ceiling has not yet been raised. All signs indicate that the desire to be exclusive is insidiously, silently, gradually but surely engulfing us, that sooner than later the Indian Luxury market will mature into an industry. High disposable income, shifting consumer mindset, growing confidence and optimism and the economic climate, is slowly but surely ensuring that critical mass to attain profitability is reached. At a time when Andy Warhol's proverbial 15 minutes of fame has now become 15 megs (megabytes) of fame for everybody on earth and at a time when the world does seem to be announcing the demise of print media ( Philip Meyer in The Vanishing Newspaper predicts that the last reader will recycle the last newspaper in 2040) it seems curiously uncharacteristic that a number of glossy high brow lifestyle luxury magazines were launched in India in 2007-08. Luxury brands (though most International) in automotive, technology, real estate, fashion, leisure. are investing heavily. The Luxury Marketing Council Worldwide has established a chapter in India . Its mission is to aid luxury brands interested in India with inputs on markets and consumer insight. The whiff of the emerging Indian luxury industry is getting stronger. Luxury branding = (rules of branding) To create a successful Luxury Brand all rules, tenets, processes and practices of branding have to be magnified a hundred times and religiously pursued. The fundamental intent of positioning any brand is to create a distinct feeling a distinct idea a distinct emotion that characterizes the product in the consumers mind. The key word is distinct. The question that keeps marketers awake, in a world where brand differentiation is being blurred, is how does a brand create distinctiveness, uniqueness that enables it to shine and cut through like a bolt of lightening?

Now think about Luxury brands for whom the primary reason to be is to help magnify the halo. Transfer unique fame, recognition , appeal, self expression, self worth, deep emotional reward, irrational aura and mystique and transcend any rational justification it is brand power at its purest. To create a successful Luxury Brand all rules, tenets, processes and practices of branding have to be magnified a hundred times and religiously pursued. the magic is in the product
Bill Bernbach

Bernbach also said Advertising doesnt create a product advantage. It can only convey it. For Luxury Branding this tenet must be repeated every morning it is a necessary condition to succeed. The product must itself be articulate in its ability to communicate its value. The magnificence of quality must shine through bereft of the sheen of the brand coating. Brand power along with powerful product oratory must create the awe, the mystique. the circle of light. Many Luxury marketers believe that advertising agencies are mass brand gurus but when it comes to luxury products they unwittingly employ the same rules with dismal results. To embellish a product truth or a consumer benefit advertising gurus search for an idea that could bring it alive in the mind of their target. However in doing so in luxury branding, very often, the idea that has a noble intention manages to draw attention on the idea rather than what it intended to help shine. Because an appeal makes logical sense is no guarantee that it will work.
Bill Bernbach

More often than not, luxury possesses a strain of senselessness an enigmatic aura and mystique. To seduce this irrationality a heightened emotional drama must be created charmingly seduce the irrational part of the mind. The product must be on its own articulate, however communicating its usefulness and its rational details must be implied and derived left to superior intellect and sense and presented with reassuring unassuming confidence. Eye of buzz Buzz drives brands. However it drives some brands much more than others. To succeed luxury brands must be in the eye of buzz - peer group appreciation. Recognition and recommendation is the force multiplier to the halo of fame in absence of which an avalanche of covetousness can never be delivered. Unrehearsed customer evangelism is what generates the wind in the sails and attracts like minded devotees Ensuring customer delight ( especially for service luxury brands ) is often more valuable and effective vs. enticing new customers. Once the point of peer enthusiasm has been reached the sails robotically tip to the wind effortlessly pulling in new brand missionaries

creating a brand epidemic. At this point, the essential marketing ingredient is seduction via creativity and originality liberally doused with hypnotic subtlety. Large marketing budget is not the success driver. In fact, it can be damaging. People become aware of a luxury brands through animated conversations. The nature of luxury (very akin to cool) is often underground, and certainly more tribal and contagious than mass consumer markets. Amplified customer intimacy The relationship between consumers and luxury brands is more intimate than with other brands, and it is this interactive relationship that provides that incremental value. It is this unique connection that proves impossible to copy and effectively differentiates from competitors. For a luxury brand to succeed every act of communication - endorsements, personalization, high-touch, retailing, public relations, events, direct marketing, brand placements - needs to be innovated upon, delicately amplified and fired. Unrelenting focus must be the guiding canon. There are very few Indian marketers who have traversed and negotiated this path. And when they do they would need somebody who is intimately capable of handling these unique issues rather than allowing past experiences and knowledge cloud the path. Shine on you crazy diamond. Once the point of peer enthusiasm has been reached the sails robotically tip to the wind, effortlessly pulling in new brand missionaries, creating a brand epidemic.