Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
How do you define luxury? For most, the word “luxury” is synonymous with expensive price tags and glitzy marketing campaigns, rather than the recognition of quality, use of superior materials, and craftsmanship. However, the term “luxury” extends to other areas of consumer behaviour: the luxury of time to spend on a hobby or with family, the luxury of being able to take care of yourself and “indulge” with massages and facials, the luxury of reading a good book or visiting a museum, or the luxury of having the resources to build a sustainable world for future generations.
In his book, Luxury World, Mark Tungate focuses on the creation and marketing of luxury products and clearly establishes the divide between an inaccessible number of products available only to a select few individuals, and the mass market of products targeting a large number of individuals. The factors binding the two groups, he suggests, are ““an additional creative and emotional value for the consumer” and the promise of quality which [is] occasionally filled” (p. 3). However, the author also leaves readers questioning the “bling” (p. 4) of luxuries' allure and points out that there is a much deeper meaning attached to the term “luxury.” This meaning alludes to stories of tradition and romanticism, and it is within these stories that the author sets up the chapters for the book and explores a myriad of luxury brands across a number of different product categories.
Luxury World explores the great stories behind the product categories that are traditionally associated with luxury, such as fashion (Chapter 1), footwear (Chapter 2), jewelry (Chapter 3), watches (Chapter 4), automobiles (Chapter 5), private jets (Chapter 6), boating (Chapter 7), property (Chapter 8), travel (Chapter 9), art (Chapter 10), and retail (Chapter 11), including the more contemporary concerns of spas and health retreats (Chapter 17) and education (Chapter 18). He clearly illustrates that luxury transcends categories, even in areas where non‐consumption activist movements shun excessive consumption and promote simple living (Chapter 20). In fact, there is very little in daily life that does not have the capacity of being exposed to the draw of luxury, from food (Chapter 16) and drink (Chapters 14 and 15) to domestic help (Chapter 19).
Many of the stories of luxury told in the book paint a picture of brands recreating Old World charm, where advertising is discreet and shy of mass communication channels and business is predominately driven by word of mouth and client referrals. Store frontages are off‐street and secure, ensuring client anonymity. Yet beneath the surface of nostalgia and the glory of a bygone era of craftsmen and artisans, there is a clear struggle between the luster of secluded Old World charm and the modernization of luxury. This struggle is documented throughout the book as the author highlights the introduction of digital luxury.
If luxury is about steering clear of the perils of mass marketing, then it would make sense for luxury houses across the world to hesitate before adopting a mass marketing medium like the Internet. However, pressure from a new generation of consumers has seen the expansion of luxury brands into a new digital arena with beneficial consequences. In light of these changes, there is a lingering sense throughout the book of “what does the future hold for luxury?” It seems that the modernization and transformation of luxury in an uncertain world is little but a bump in the road that will iron out over time: “consumers come and go, economies boom and bust – but luxury endures” (p. 228).
Another theme the book taps into is that of seduction and love. Luxury “encourages a sense of moderation and taste, of saving up for the best instead of squandering on the disposable. Perhaps the dream of luxury […] speaks of a yearning for perfection, the pursuit of an ideal” (p. 228). Consumers are seduced by the story that a luxury brand tells; the story of a single craftsman sourcing only the best materials from distant locations to painstakingly piece together a customized product. So much so that consumers are willing to wait months, years even, for the perfect product to be created, which they will treasure. However, the reality of some luxury brands is that in light of modern economic and business pressures and shareholder interests, the story is nothing more than a dream. In response, luxury brands have had to develop other ways to nurture their relationship with consumers. One such way is through personalized service. Recalling personal experiences with exceptional service, the author states, “if the human touch is absent, no amount of glossy marketing can fill the void” (p. 129).
It is perhaps this human touch that distinguishes luxury products: “Luxury is a sign that we have learned to enjoy life beyond the basics […] luxury is not measured in dollars – it is measured in details” (p. 228). Luxury World offers luxury marketers, whether they are sales and service representatives, or brand or marketing managers, an insight into what it means to be a luxury brand in today's society, while at the same time challenging preconceived ideas of the meaning of luxury.