February 26, 2013“The experience” is essential when advertising luxury brands

I’m surprised at how much debate I stirred up on Twitter today by re-posting this news from MacRumors that the creator of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign thinks Apple’s current advertising sucks — he thinks Apple’s focus on the product, and not the people using the product, has allowed competitors like Samsung to gain ground.

I reposted it without comment or opinion, as I felt it was an interesting advertising-related post. But a surprising number of people sprung up to defend Apple’s ad campaigns, and not just from the usual Apple fanboys (for the record, I own two MacBooks and an iPhone, so I’m not an Apple basher myself, although my recent customer experience where it took 7 weeks to repair a brand new Macbook that broke after just 5 left much to be desired).

Dave Bowers of Evolutia Design provided perhaps the most cogent response in 140 characters:

“Apple have it right, making an expensive product the target of consumer desire. Bang & Olufsen & Mercedes aren’t people-focused.”

He’s right. In an earlier post, “Head or heart? How to become a better copywriter by appealing to both”, I explained that Apple’s branding worked because it made Apple computers worth more than just the sum of their parts. A Dell is just a Dell. But Apple have cultivated the kind of brand loyalty that enables them to charge far more than just the cost of the product and the design — they can also levy a fee based on people’s emotional attachment to the brand. Some folks call that the Apple tax. Many folks, myself included, happily pay it.

This is what luxury brands do. They charge more because of their name.

Yes, the quality of the components is better — a designer suit is almost certainly made of better quality material than a high street one. But there is still a premium levied on top of that.

On the other hand, “people focused” campaigns work. Apple’s branding used to be about individuality — now that so many people own one, that no longer works. Instead, Apple concentrate on making the product desirable. Many people would say that’s why an iPad Mini will set you back £270 while a Nexus 7 — containing better specs on paper — will set you back £100 less.

But I think this is an oversimplification of the argument. My colleague Spencer Lavery recently bought a Nexus 4 because, on paper, it had better specs, and was half the price of a new iPhone 5. He used it for one day before selling it on. Not because people laughed at him in the street. But because he missed the Apple experience — the way things “simply worked”.

In other words, a luxury brand is still about the experience — before I became a tube-bound city dweller, I used to drive a Mercedes because it was a wonderful car to drive, reliable, comfortable, safe. Not because it had a pointy hood ornament at the front. The Mercedes marque was a mark of quality and of reassurance to me, not a sign of conspicuous consumption. Considering I rescued it from the scrapheap, it couldn’t be.

It wasn’t a new car. Yet when I drove a family member’s much newer and, pound for pound, much more expensive Fiat, I found I preferred my old Mercedes C Class.

Experience always counts, so why discount it?

Luxury is an experience. And experiences are enjoyed by people. They’re also shared. If I enjoy a product, I tell my friends. I share with them. I become the best advert for the brand. By slavishly focusing on making their products ‘objects of desire’ Apple — and any other company pursuing the same policy — is relying on the whims of taste and the fickleness of fashions to drive sales.

Although I remain a loyal Apple customer (despite the awful experience with the broken MacBook, it’s still the best computer I’ve ever owned), in the long term, I think Samsung have it right. People want things that bring joy to their lives. Conspicuous consumption makes other people jealous — but it takes a particular type of person to take joy in that. I’m not one of them. Some of your customers might be, but most of them won’t be, either.

Apple are a mass market company now. That’s why they can’t “think different”. Focusing on positioning themselves simply as a luxury brand rather than focusing on what made them popular in the first place — the quality of the experience — is a short term gain, but a long term mistake.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:50 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. Great post.

    Oddly enough, I saw something today that had a similar POV.

    It made the point that (perhaps before now), Apple’s marketing was all about who they were and why they did what they did. Campaigns like ‘Think Different’ (we’ll all stop talking about that one, someday), told you what Apple believed, and that’s where their demand came from.

    And the bit that made me think how true that was is that today, we buy laptops, phones, tablets and set top boxes from them. TVs and watches to follow. And it’s because if you set out who you are well enough and people buy into that, you can sell them a much wider range of products, held together by the brand.

    Unlike a company who focused on product, and set everything out in terms of ‘we make computers’ (for example). Then, we’d probably think twice about their ventures into other types of product.

  2. Agreed — Samsung have taken over from Apple where it comes to talking about “the experience” and that’s why they’re gaining ground. “The product” is important, but it should be the base coat of paint underneath a much more glossy advertising campaign. The gloss, naturally, is the experience. :-)

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