The Anti-Laws Of Luxury Marketing #2

Jean-Noel KapfererAugust 9, 20092 min

#2. Does your product have enough flaws?

This is a provocative statement. For most people, luxury is the last word in hand-crafted or craftsman-built products. It is true that in surveys into the perception of luxury, consumers from all over the world were interviewed and the consensus was that ‘product excellence’ is the primary prerequisite of luxury. It would suffice to imagine a bisecting line between two axes – price and functional quality: at the very top right would be luxury. Now, in our view, nothing could be further from reality.

The aim of an upper-premium brand is to deliver a perfect product, to relentlessly pursue perfection. But it would take a touch of madness for it to be counted a luxury. Functionally, a Seiko watch is superior to many luxury watches – it is more accurate (because it’s a quartz watch) and shows the time directly and in a perfectly legible manner (because it is displayed on a digital face). If you were to buy some of the famous brands of a luxury watch, you would probably be warned that it loses two minutes every year. The flaw is not only known, it is assumed – one could say that that is both its charm and its guarantee of authenticity. It is the specific and singular nature of their movement that is responsible for that. For luxury watchmakers like adding complications, indeed seek them out in their endless quest of art for art’s sake. This is the ‘madness’ touch that goes beyond perfection and makes people collect them.

Let us look at some of the watches that Hermès has to offer, where the time is indicated by just four figures: 12, 3, 6 and 9. So you have to guess the time – as if knowing the time accurately was somehow unimportant, even pleasure-killing and dehumanizing. They are certainly far removed from those state-of-the-art precision chronograph watches, for luxury brands are not interested in being the leader in utilitarian or functional comparisons – primarily they are hedonistic and symbolic.

In the world of luxury, the models and the products must have character or personality. In the world of automobiles, a Ferrari is anything but a perfect car if you like easy, smooth and silent driving; that is why people would do anything to own one. Every model forces its owner to accept its flaws.

Of course, if a luxury product is not a flawless product, the reverse is not true: adding flaws does not turn a regular product into to a luxury product…

Excerpted from: The Luxury Strategy: Break The Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands by JN Kapferer and V. Bastien, in partnership with Kogan Page publishing.

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Jean-Noel Kapferer


  • Andrew Lee

    August 9, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Hermes is a terrible example of moving up market in comparison from Seiko.

    Seiko holds such a strong reputation among watch enthusiasts. The watch market depends more on consumer education. In Japan, Seikos cost up to several thousand dollars and are still considered a bargain.

    Granted, I am guessing from your description of an Hermes watch that you are talking about the women’s watch market which is completely different from the men’s market.

    But, in the end, I think the watch market is heavily dependent on male purchasing, unlike apparel. I think a stronger example would be uneven hand stitching vs ‘perfect’ machine stitching in couture / bespoke apparel.

    Andrew Lee

  • Brian

    January 17, 2011 at 1:35 am

    I think the distinction you’re making here is between “regular” luxury and super-ultra-high-end luxury. For example, to stick to the car analogy, Lexus unquestionably defines luxury. They also epitomize quality. But now Lexus is a quite common vehicle on the roads. Thus, they exemplify mere ordinary, everyday luxury. A Ferrari, however (or a Rolls Royce, or some such thing) represents truly extreme luxury.

    In other words: in “regular” luxury, both style and substance matter. But when it comes to super-luxury, style is much more important than substance.

    This distinction is also driven in part by scarcity (how many Ferrari’s do you see on a regular basis?), but that’s another column!

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