When the broadcast age arrived in the 1950s, companies could suddenly burn in a product message to millions at once. The Mad Men era ran through the 90s as the three big networks, publishing houses and radio conglomerates provided mass channels for communication that people willingly absorbed. From Coca-Cola to Cadillac and eventually Nike and Apple, this was the era when brands displayed great creativity in their communications, including luxury brands.
Then came 2000 and the tide began to turn. As Google search and Facebook seeped into our lives, the bullhorn was handed back to us with our groundswell of anonymized clicks. The atomization of media channels began, and has, over time, brutally eroded the brand-building power of TV, print and radio. Creativity has waned. Messaging is now “customized” to each set of eyeballs, but… the thing is it isn’t really personalized. Mostly, it’s just delivered on a customized basis to destinations spread across a fragmented landscape of pages. Advertising feels more like noise than ever, and it’s debatable if any luxury brand has truly found its voice in a digital landscape.
Covid has further ravaged this media landscape and accelerated changes that were already taking place. Advertising has become a sort of pathetic tax on the poor and middle class and/or technically illiterate, as Scott Galloway points out in his most recent book, Post Corona. Those deft with ad blockers don’t even see digital advertising.
In other words, luxury buyers are starting to surround themselves with a comfortable force field of serenity with subscription streaming versions of everything from YouTube to Sonos to Spotify. It’s what Clear delivered to airline travel – a transcendent escape from the masses. Compare the experience of reading cnn.com with its circuslike pop-ups vs. logging on to the beautiful salmon-tinted pages of ft.com where a paywall protects you from annoying distraction. It seems only a matter of time until all premium media platforms create first-class subscription versions that remove the vulgarity of the advertising as we’ve come to know it.
Who will listen to luxury brands in the post-Covid era? Magazines now seem like quaint relics and the permanently-reduced commuter population makes billboards seem as if they are shouting into a void. No one really admits to watching ads on TV unless it’s the Superbowl. Post Capitol Hill coup, social media is increasingly seen as kind of dirty and dangerous. Luxury brands are beginning to distance themselves from them as an advertising channel. Intriguingly, Bottega Veneta just removed itself from Instagram.
Luxury brands can not assume that their clients are even hearing what they have to say unless they can get them into the store. Some of the most respected luxury houses do not sell online despite enormous pressure to do so. Why should anyone visit their sites if they are digital versions of glossy brochures? Sales Associates are keeping the relevance alive but they are not always the purest expression of luxury brands.
We’re thinking about this as we chat with luxury consumers on LookLook. To be sure, our mobile ethnographies are little data, not big data. Maybe it’s a drop in the pond for our luxury clients, but luxury is rarity after all and I’d like to think we are bringing back the ultimate scarce resource which is civilized dialogue. Luxury is, above all, respectful to its clients and shares quality of information over quantity of messaging.
Could listening via one-on-one chat with a highly curated panel be a strategic ingredient in how luxury brands, and perhaps all brands, plant seeds for growth? Bringing back the art of intimate conversation in today’s world feels like a luxury in and of itself. Our Luxury Collective participants are not “influencers” in the mainstream sense, but they are 100% authentic and they create organic growth in their own high value circles. The impact they have as they focus on the brands with which we engage with them is something we’re listening for, and something I’ll continue to share about here in the months ahead!