Maybe It's Best to Wait for Second Edition of 'Luxury World'

Mark Tungate's Book Predates the Great Recession but Still Offers Timely Marketing Advice

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If published in, say, 2007, Mark Tungate's "Luxury World: The Past, Present and Future of Luxury Brands" would be an excellent overview of the luxury trade, from watches to yachts.

But given that it fails to meaningfully address the impact of the global recession (due to publishing deadlines?), "Luxury World" sometimes reads like a samizdat from an alternate reality where Lehman Brothers is still alive, unemployment isn't near 10% and investor portfolios haven't been savaged.

To be sure, there are sprinkled references to the early harbingers of what would become the Great Recession. But the downturn doesn't even make the cut for five trends shaping the future of luxury over the next few years.

Not that the Great Recession will kill luxury. The very rich, like the poor, will always be with us. But it certainly has changed the paradigm. The luxury goods conglomerates -- LVMH, PPR, Hermes, et al -- have been seeing improving results, but they still must deal with the new normal like everyone else.

As Robert Polet, the CEO of PPR's Gucci Group, told the Financial Times on March 5: "Two years ago, where a woman would come into one of our stores and take about five minutes to impulsively buy a handbag of $2,000 or €2,000, now she will ask questions and after 30 minutes ask for the bag to be kept aside while she thinks about it.

"This type of behavior is more normal than the impulsive behavior. That was abnormal and if it's not normal, you shouldn't be building your businesses around it."

There is no serious discussion like this in Luxury World.

That said, what actually is in the book is compelling and solidly reported. Tungate, the author of "Ad Land: A Global History of Advertising" and "Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara," is a sharp observer and a knowledgeable and sympathetic guide to the many worlds of luxury, whether its fashion, wine, Champagne, automobiles, hotels, spas, art galleries or dining. His sketches of the people behind luxury, whether executives or true artisans like the shoemaker Pierre Corthay, get under the skin and capture their passion.

And there are compelling case studies for non-luxury marketers as well. Everybody talks about the importance of training and empowering employees. Tungate shows how it's critical to the success of luxury marketers. For example, "even the most junior members of [Ritz Carlton] staff are allowed to spend up to U.S. $2,000 to take care of a guest's problem without having to seek permission at a higher level." And his discussion of how luxury marketers have capitalized on the internet to promote their brands -- a seeming disconnect from their high-touch positioning -- shows how the web can be a powerful tool if tied to strategy and leveraged with creativity.

And Tungate's view of the trends shaping the future of luxury are thought-provoking (apart from missing that whole Great Recession thing):

  • Treasuring: The desire for luxury items that are meaningful and lasting (an attribute, incidentally, that ties into the FT's interview with Polet: "Customers were looking for 'more discreet, timeless' products, and eschewing anything that could fall out of fashion quickly. 'People feel guilty about that.'"

  • Social luxury: The rise concierge services providing access to the right parties and restaurants.

  • Analogue snobbery: A countertrend against the dominance of digital, where old-school media like vinyl records are hip and "newspapers will become the next icons of analogue snobbery ... adopt[ing] some of the attitudes of luxury brands."

  • Disruption from Asia: Expect China to become an innovator in luxury.

  • Guilt-free luxury: Encouraging a sense "of moderation and taste, of saving up for the best instead of squandering on the disposable."

    In short, Tungate provides an interesting overview of the world of luxury before the deluge. One hopes he can update his insights in a future edition (though would a paperback release be declasse?).

    ~ ~ ~
    James Arndorfer, a former Ad Age reporter, now works for MillerCoors.

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