Distancing luxury brand advertising from mass premium brands by cultivating the emothinal and the sensusual

“The total art of advertising execution is also key to differentiation.”
Laurence Nougaro-Soubrane, Ipsos ASI.

In luxury advertising, as in the rest of the industry, boundaries continue to blur and fade. Whatever the approach, by product or service, by target, by media, or by distribution channel, it has now become impossible to pin a precise definition on luxury. Advertising has largely followed this movement, with major luxury brands invading mass media in order to enlarge their target, as we’ve seen recently with Guerlain’s launch campaign for its new lipstick, KissKiss.

Layouts have moved from traditional media (POP and high-end magazines) to the street and onto advertising panels without losing cachet. Outdoor advertising is no longer the media luxury brands reserve for their perfumes; YSL and Dior led the way with outdoor advertising for cosmetics launches (mascara and lipstick) and campaigns for a variety of luxury-brand goods, including sunglasses (Dior, D&G, Chanel), personal accessories (Armani, Mont Blanc, Weston), jewellery, and diamonds. Recruitment objectives can also be met by enlarging the media selection. In women’s magazines, especially, the choice of titles is often more mass-market than elitist.

Conversely, the boundaries of luxury are being erased by players traditionally outside luxury who have borrowed the signature qualities of the luxury market to reposition themselves. The work done by Club Med in 2005 is the most obvious example; L’Oréal has also taken its cosmetics in this direction. These movements force luxury brands to reinforce their differentiating features in communications.

Two Major Directions

  1. Cultivate the emotional and the sensual in advertising to differentiate from mass-premium brandsLuxury advertising remains very different from other advertising, both in the message it delivers and the way it is delivered. The first thing to remember about advertising messages concerns the benefits expressed, which must always be emotional and sensual and never rational. Fauchon sells the gourmet experience, Hermes freedom, and Dior Kiss sensuality… but always reinforced by status and elitism.

    The other strong differentiating feature of luxury is its capacity to invent worlds that are intimately linked to the brand more than to the product and that constitute very strong brand signatures. Some examples are the tribal world of Dolce & Gabbana, Dior J’adore’s pool of gold, or the sporting world of Tag Hauer. All the great campaigns tell simple, poetic stories that tempt people into the brand’s world.

  2. Total art in advertising production is also key to differentiationLuxury advertising stands out from other types of advertising in the way that advertising messages are delivered because of differentiation in execution. Particular care and attention give it a unique artistic dimension. The photos are works of art.

    This is hardly surprising, considering the involvement of certain artists — especially photographers — and the imprint of the major luxury brands’ artistic directors. When Jean-Baptiste Mondino presents l’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci, or Jean-Paul Gaultier launches his classic perfumes, le Mâle and Fragile, or Heidi Slimane takes over the artistic direction of the campaign for Dior’s new men’s perfume, we know we’re dealing with luxury and not just fashion.

    Star power is also raising the artistic bar as international brands seek world-famous spokespeople at the height of their talent. Matching stars with advertising campaigns, which began with the series of Chanel N° 5 campaigns, is becoming more widespread. Today, Chanel’s Couture’s image is associated with Nicole Kidman, J’Adore’s with Charlize Théron, Tag Heuer’s with Maria Sharapova, Givenchy’s with Liv Tyler, Versace’s with Halle Barry, Lancôme’s men’s line with Clive Owen.

    Here, too, the need for differentiation is becoming imperative as mass-premium brands usurp the language of stars and further blur boundaries (Sarah Jessica Parker for the Gap, for example, or Stella McCartney for H&M). As a result, luxury brands have highly exacting standards for choosing their muses. They must not only be reassuring with well-known faces, they must be fundamentally distinctive. They must be living incarnations of the brand. Beyond simply illustrating the brand, luxury brand stars are the spirit of the brand and its creator. Nicole Kidman, a model of perfection, passion, and independence, is the spirit of Chanel as Inès de la Fressange and Carole Bouquet were before her. Halle Berry embodies the daring and independent spirit in Versace. The discerning audience of luxury clients has no trouble picking up on all these communication codes.

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