Luxury in Marketing: The New Approach

By Julie Lubbers


Another day, another high-end luxury brand getting into outdoor performance gear. This time, it's Loewe's turn, the oldest design house under LVMH. While a few years ago high-end luxury and outdoor equipment wouldn't have been caught dead in the same sentence, it seems like today, many luxury brands are more focused on performance wear than savoir faire. This begs the question: What's happening with the state of luxury today? Enter luxury's new era: agency.

Fundamentally, what qualifies a product or brand to be considered "luxury" is based on whether it is delivering on people's current ideas of what constitutes luxury in the first place. And in 2022, our idea of luxury is quite different from what it used to be.

We all know that luxury has been evolving for quite a while now – from what we "own" and "show" to what we "experience" and "know." But now, that evolution has reached a pivotal point.

In a world that's increasingly dictated by the internet, producers and consumers alike have gained power. As a result, the value that luxury has traditionally provided through forms of gatekeeping, such as exclusivity or aspiration, are eroding as more gates are opening. Old ideas of luxury have started to feel limiting, even meaningless.

But if not exclusive access or aspirational lifestyles, what is true luxury today? The answer is complex and, after two years of being stuck indoors, painfully simple: agency.

As we aim to regain control and rewrite the ways in which we live, it's luxurious to feel like we can still be the agents of our own lives – think for ourselves, pursue different experiences, and determine our paths.

In many ways, this shift is being superpowered by today's youngest – yet tomorrow's biggest – luxury consumers: gen Z. As the world's first digitally native generation, they not only have more access than anyone before them, but they also have the digital tools to act on it. This means that they're no longer falling prey to the same old marketing tactics luxury brands use to sell products and services at a premium. In fact, they'll easily get your products (or better products) elsewhere, or find a way to make them themselves (see here, here, and here).

For brands, agency-as-luxury therefore means equipping consumers with products and experiences that empower them to move through the world in new ways. Ultimately, luxury is becoming less about the brands themselves and more about "empowering people to become more of what they are (and can be). This reverses the industry dynamic from aspiring to own brands to empowering people and their individual identities."

So, how can luxury brands deliver on this newfound form of luxury?

Design for fluidity, not loyalty

For one, luxury brands need to stop being so precious. This is no easy feat for a category that has been built on this very conviction – only they hold the keys to creating special products, codes and ideas, and therefore, are meant to be untouched. But in today's context, consumers are seeking brands that aren't afraid to experiment in ways that would inspire them to do the same.

Two of the brands that have fundamentally understood this are Gucci and Balenciaga. Through their recent Hacker Project, the two merged one another's motifs to create a "hybrid universe." With product and store designs that borrow from both design codes and brand names, they play around with ideas of authenticity and appropriation.

Inspire forms of being, not boasting

Luxury products should be active drivers that allow consumers to be and do more of what they want in life.

This explains why many of this past year's highly anticipated collaborations have been with performance brands that embody everything luxury brands ordinarily don't, like Loewe's recent collection with On Running. Gucci, too, made waves when last year they released their collaboration with North Face – the anticipation being so high that Gucci's website crashed due to increased traffic.

After two years of dealing with a pandemic, consumers want empowering outdoor experiences.

Make it feel real, not out-of-reach

One industry that is starting to explore how to further deliver "realness" is luxury travel. By entering the metaverse, luxury travel brands are exploring how they can transport consumers to virtually fly First Class or take a VR tour of different hotel rooms that empower consumers to see and experience it for themselves online, thus they always know exactly what they're paying for when they make a reservation in real life.

Be a partner, not an authority

To be a facilitator of agency also means that you'll need to give up some control of your brand in order to allow the consumer to make some choices for themselves. In this era of luxury, your consumers are no longer your followers, they're your partners.

The late visionary Virgil Abloh was one of the first to understand this and to spearhead this shift in the luxury industry. The latest evidence being his brand Off-White's first-of-its-kind show on TikTok, which made the front row accessible to everyone and put users fully in control of what they see.

TikTok users were able to choose between different rooms they wanted to experience, talk to the brand and friends via the chat feature, and hear different creators' point of views.

These codes might seem like tall orders to hundred-year-old luxury houses that are set in their ways. But in 2022, facilitating a sense of agency for consumers is no longer a "nice-to-do" – it's a matter of survival. The good news? This means that luxury brands now, too, have more agency than ever before. The only question is: Will they be brave enough to embrace it?

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Julie Lubbers is the senior strategist at SYLVAIN.