The American Express Centurion Card and its sibling The Platinum Card are prestigious, as are The Chase Sapphire Reserve and The J.P. Morgan Reserve Credit Card. These cards can buy luxuries. A Regal Cruise is luxurious with a wide range of luxury amenities. A Venicci Shadow 2-in-1 Stroller is a very prestigious perch for your infant. An Oscar is a prestigious award. But, what is prestige? What is luxury? These two concepts – prestige and luxury – are not the same. Yet, they tend to be used as synonyms. This is a marketing mistake.
The misuse or muddling of these two concepts – prestige and luxury – is a problem for luxury brands and for prestigious brands. The two ideas are different, denoting different brand and cultural experiences.
Prestige is about the image of the owner; it is bestowed; it is given; it is leveraged. Luxury is about the product or service. A high quality, high priced product may be a luxury. A high status product may be prestigious to own. A luxury brand is not necessarily a prestigious brand. However, a brand can have the elements of both.
Although not mutually exclusive, the two concepts deliver different functional, emotional and social benefits. And, the values of the target customer may be profoundly different. For example, a power seeker will want to associate with goods and services that bestow a sense of elevation relative to others. This does not mean that this power seeker will refuse to buy luxury items. What it means is that the power seeker uses prestigious items for stature and reputation.
Bernard Dubois of the HEC School of Management, a French grande écoles, (“grandes écoles” are elite, private, and yes, prestigious, schools, feeding graduates to the top levels of French public and private companies and government) wrote a journal article in 2002 on this subject of prestige and luxury. He reported, “… prestige is based on unique human accomplishment” while luxury refers to the “benefits of refinement, and aesthetics.” His research demonstrated that prestige and luxury have different consumer perceptions that if ignored have “substantial consequences” for a brand. Prestige is associated with admiration for a person while luxury reflects perceptions of comfort, quality and beauty.
Professeure Elyette Roux teaches at the University Paul Cézanne in the IAE Business School, in Aix-en-Provence. Professeure Roux is considered to be France’s most reputed (luxury) brand researcher. Previously, Professeure Roux was the LMVH Professor at ESSEC Business School, another of France’s most selective “grandes écoles.”
In 1999, Professeure Roux wrote a “white paper” on understanding luxury, describing the difference between prestige and luxury. According to her analysis, “Prestige is the act of striking the imagination, demanding respect and admiration. Prestige implies that one is looking for power over others, impose power over others.” Luxury is not about seeking power over others. “Luxury refers to pleasure, refinement, and perfection as well as to rarity, and the costly appreciation of that which is not a necessity.”
The American sociologist, and author of The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills, wrote, “Prestige is the shadow of money and power.” Examples of synonyms for prestige are status, standing, stature, reputation, repute, regard, fame, note, renown, honor, esteem, celebrity, importance, prominence, influence, eminence and more. These are not synonyms for luxury. Examples of synonyms for luxury are premium, lavish, indulgence, expensive, extravagant, affluence, opulent.
According to the French, and they should know, luxury is “a way of living represented by great spending to show elegance and refinement… it is a way of being rather than a way of appearing.” Professeure Roux regrets that the concept of luxury has come to be associated with ostentation, which is all about “showing.”
A McLaren P1 GTR costs U.S. $3.4 million dollars. The McLaren P1 GTR is a highly prestigious brand, even though it is low to the ground and small on the inside. Yes, it is a fast, beautifully designed, aerodynamic head-turner, especially on city streets or at valet parking. The McLaren bestows an image of prominence, distinction and importance on the owner. Think of the Concorde SST. It was very prestigious to be an SST passenger. But, in fact, the SST was a long, skinny silver tube. If you were over 5’ 8”, you had to stoop to walk down the aisle to your tight, uncomfortable seat.
The Mercedes S Class is considered a luxury vehicle. The copy describing the S Class sedan drips of luxury: “…the S-Class cabin is sculpted, sewn, appointed, and equipped not just to provide unmatched comfort and convenience, but to stimulate and soothe your senses. Especially your sense of contentment.” For this state of art 2020 S Class Convertible, you will need to fork over upwards of U.S. $138,600.
The Tarnishing Effect Of Merging Luxury And Prestige
The merger deal that has gone wrong between Tiffany and LVMH is financially driven. LVMH wants to get out of it. However, Tiffany is suing LVMH. Tiffany claims that their brand is very prestigious. For example, the robin’s blue box confers all sorts of status. LVMH is a holding company with some of the world’s most luxurious brands such as Dior, Loro Piana, Patou, Bulgari, Moët Chandon and Hennessey. In its recent countersuit, LVMH is inferring that Tiffany’s poor performance, bad management and questionable future have dented Tiffany’s prestige.
According to Professeur Dubois, prestige takes a long time to build and is “… difficult to acquire. However, it is easy to lose. One negative experience is enough to disqualify the brand from the domain of prestige.” Prestige is about the power of personal respect, status, and reputation. Luxury is “a world of creations that make life more beautiful.”
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, CEO of Arcature
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