The question of the day: Can Massclusivity be achieved?

First of all, what is massclusivity?

From Idea Couture’s Idris Mootee:

In economic terms, luxury products are those which can consistently command and justify a higher price than products with comparable function and similar quality.

In marketing terms, luxury products are those which can deliver emotional benefits which are hard to match by comparable products.

One challenge is whether or not a niche player can move outside of their niche, or expand their niche without destroying their brand in the process.

Another challenge is once it can successfully move out of the niche, how far can it go until it becomes mass? Is there such a thing as massclusivity?

Let me give you some example of Massclusive brands (brands which USED to be niche or luxury brands but have now begun to focus on mass market distribution rather than exclusivity):

Ralph Lauren.
Yves Saint Laurent.
Lotus. Tiffany & Co.

The question rephrased is this: Can a luxury or niche brand remain luxury or niche when everyone is wearing, driving, eating or drinking it?

Are you really “thinking different” when everyone owns the same iPod or MacBook? Are you really stylin’ when everyone is wearing the same Kenneth Cole, Nike or Puma shoes? When everyone is wearing either one of the top five selling perfumes? When everyone is wearing the same 80’s throwback belts and sunglasses? When everyone is sporting Gucci purses and Chanel cell phone cases?

Can a commoditized brand (even if it continues to charge a premium and position itself as a luxury or premium brand) still remain niche when it can be bough at Target or Macy’s, or luxury when it is mass produced in Asian factories as opposed to hand-crafted in Europe?

Have we entered the era of the non-brand superbrand? Where unique, non-recognizable, word-of-mouth only “custom-made” works of art (in tailoring, shoe-making, cuisine, timepieces, writing instruments, vehicle alterations, and other accessories) are the new luxuries/niches? (The more obscure to the general public and exclusive via scarcity the better?)

I am not talking about the masses here. They’re still buying into the notion that the more well-known the “luxury” or “premium” brand, the more valuable it is. (Hey look: I’m wearing an ugly ass cotton shirt produced by child labor in Micronesia! Between the $280 price tag and the brand name, I know I’m wearing some serious couture!) I am talking about the mavens, the hipsters, and those among us with the sophistication to know real craftsmanship from factory-made crap stamped with a fancy logo and a criminal price tag.

Example 1: Buying your fancy rainforest-friendly ‘organic’ tea at Whole Foods vs. buying premium quality no-brand (but incredibly fresh) loose leaf tea by the gram from La Maison Du The in Paris (a tea store and salon with such an enviable pedigree and reputation that it doesn’t require a website.)

Example 2: Buying your Hilfiger/Cremieux/Lauren/cK suit from Macy’s or Dillards vs. grabbing a flight to London to get your next bespoke suit cut on Savile Row.

For all the hype, fancy packaging and gorgeous stores, I wonder if once “luxury” brands can truly be luxury brands if they do any of the following:

1. Advertise on Television, the radio or the web (print ads are acceptable).
2. Sell their products on the internet or via catalog.
3. Have stores or products for sale anywhere near a shopping mall or airport.
4. Have stores anywhere but Paris, London, Geneva, Dubai, Milan, New York, Monaco, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
5. Don’t have a store in at least one of the above cities.
6. Aren’t known for custom/one-of-a-kind products.
7. Aren’t enjoyed by royalty.
8. Don’t charge a ridiculous premium to keep poseurs at bay.
9. Don’t require setting an appointment before a sale.
10. Don’t have the best artisans in the world working on their products.

True luxury brands don’t really need to advertise. The last thing they want is to be discovered by the masses. Their market is the world’s old money families who grew up with them. The world’s wealthiest. They want clients with the means to project the level of sophistication, impeccable taste and flawless quality that their products embody. Most celebrities are liabilities to them – The Britneys and the rest of the tabloid crowd need not request an appointment. They would rather stick to Kings, Sultans,Princes of industry and true fashion mavens.

Trust me when I tell you that luxury brands aren’t available in Greenville, SC or Cleveland Ohio. Luxury brands don’t print their mark on cotton T-shirts or baseball caps. And luxury brands don’t use bar codes on their packaging.

Oh, and by the way, Rodeo Drive is a complete sham – just like the promise of massclusivity.

Check out the rest of this very interesting presentation by Idris over on Slideshare.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 🙂