The notion of luxury has become meaningless

category - campaign
sector - luxury
type - opinion
Just as we have seen with ‘craft’ and ‘natural’, the word ‘luxury’ has been appropriated by lazy marketers.

Regardless of where you live in the world, I’m sure you have encountered at least one of these phrases in recent years: luxury apartments, luxury soap, luxury pet food, maybe even luxury toilet paper. It seems that these days, luxury is everywhere and anything can be luxurious. But if we look at the definition of the word itself, that shouldn’t be the case. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Luxury is an inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain, or a pleasure obtained only rarely’. But when the word is tacked on to an ordinary product or service, paradoxically, the very concept of luxury loses its rarity and desirability. Arguably, ‘luxury’ has become meaningless.

Just as we have seen with ‘craft’ and ‘natural’, the word ‘luxury’ has been appropriated by lazy marketers who want to charge more by marketing a product in such a way, without delivering on the definition. Not only is this insulting to consumers, it also devalues luxury brands and services.

Published by:

14 August 2018

Author: Sebastien Van Laere

Image: Air Inventions by Panasonic, Milan Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2018


The semantic saturation of luxury by marketers is even leading to mistrust among consumers. As a recent Ypulse survey found, Millennials and teenagers are drawn more to phrases such as ‘high quality’ and ‘durable’ when buying items, versus those described as ‘exclusive’ or ‘luxury’, which elicit adverse reactions. These findings even extend to visual cues as well, with the study revealing a dislike for conspicuous imagery of luxury goods among younger consumers – some 81% of 13–34-year-olds agree that showing off the expensive things you have bought on social media is not cool.

With Millennials and Generation Z aware and tired of conspicuous markers of luxury, brands must explore new ways to communicate their value. By adopting an anti-luxury approach that shuns traditional marketing catchphrases, they can ensure their products and services demonstrate an understanding of how consumers’ attitudes have changed, and the role luxury can play in today’s world.

'Some 81% of 13–34-year-olds agree that showing off the expensive items on social media is not cool.'

Innovators in the luxury category are already aligning their brands with these changing characteristics. In May 2018, Harrods hosted a high-end charity shop inside its world-famous Knightsbridge store, challenging the very idea of consumption and sustainability of luxury goods. Missoni, too, has upcycled fabric from its archives to create limited-edition pieces that evoke luxury through an approach that highlights both scarcity and sustainability.

In watches and jewellery, the concept of anti-luxury is becoming central to brands’ marketing – in particular, to reach younger consumers through confident campaigns. Audemars Piguet’s latest campaign features a woman strolling through a stark, futuristic setting, stating: ‘If you want a watch that looks like everyone else’s, buy theirs. If you want all eyes on you, just get a diamond.’ Elsewhere, Tiffany & Co introduced its latest collection, Tiffany Paper Flowers, with a bold campaign featuring Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg. In addition, Tiffany’s new London concept store challenges traditional luxury retail with fragrance vending machines, neon signs and staff that can dress casually in sneakers.

In order to connect their brands with new luxury audiences, companies need to navigate such cultural changes by adopting the anti-luxury approach. Crucial to this will be the execution of the anti-luxury ethos across all touchpoints, from physical spaces and activations that allow consumers to experience this approach first-hand, to bold campaigns that enhance this new luxury narrative.

Discover how luxury consumer mindsets and purchasing behaviour are changing at our forthcoming Luxury and Hospitality Futures Forum. To attend, click here.

'Amid cultural changes, the concept of anti-luxury is becoming central to brands’’marketing.'

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