SA's luxury consumers buck international trends - Advantage Magazine

SA’s luxury consumers buck international trends

South Africa’s luxury consumers are bucking the global trend when it comes to the values driving their product and brand choices. Consequently, marketers responsible for guiding the fortunes of these brands should think twice before simply adopting communication strategies developed for European and American markets.

This was the message from Dr Inka Crosswaite to delegates at the Wealth Conference held in Johannesburg recently. The South African cultural insight and semiotics specialist has a Doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town and was a lecturer at Stellenbosch University. She now works for brand development and marketing insight consultancy, Added Value, applying her specialist skills to commercial brand challenges.

Cultural insight, rooted in ethnographic tools and semiotic analysis, looks at how the world is changing, picks up on emergent shifts and then suggests to brands how they could adapt their positioning or creative execution to either remain relevant in existing markets, or seamlessly enter new ones.

In her presentation headed ‘The Meaning of Luxury in South Africa’, Dr Crosswaite identified the typologies and attitudes of the luxury consumer, and showed how they were changing on the global front. She then discussed the concept of luxury and the luxury consumer in South Africa, and pointed out where and why they differ from their counterparts in Europe and North America.

“Luxury has many meanings – it is a social construct, rare and unique.  It has dream value, and offers a specific sensory world of refined aesthetics, sensuality and indulgence.  It often builds its identity around a creator and has its roots in history,” Dr Crosswaite defined.

“Luxury also means you don’t consume, and you don’t even own. Instead, you build a relationship with the luxury object; it becomes part of your identity. The challenge for the luxury brand is about fuelling this relationship in a changing and progressive world. As the ‘Zeitgeist’ changes, so must the ‘Brandgeist’ – in other words, the brand must retain its cultural relevance.”

On the international stage, Dr Crosswaite pointed out that the concept of luxury has evolved. As the graphic below shows, in the past, luxury brands asserted their superiority through their history, heritage and iconicity.

The more dominant driver (or code) today plays out in luxury brands telling beautiful stories to inspire dreams and desire. This is very evident in the communication around luxury brands – it is all about depicting playful opulence, elitism, status display and a sense of discernment and knowing.

But, the rapidly-emerging code for luxury expressing is edging into the lifestyle and philanthropic space. Here, drivers include defying bold display, being discreetly astute, experience-led and offering cutting-edge design, simplicity and understatement.

“In Europe, the stark reality of the recession has focused people’s attention on the value of other things; like health, family and freedom. Even luxury brands are showing restraint; at Hermes, when it’s time to leave with your purchase, you’ll be asked if you’d like a branded shopping bag or a plain brown paper packet. Careful frugality and a focus on value have replaced ‘bling’ as an expression of luxury. Even BMW is no longer about the flashiest, fastest car – it’s now about joy and creativity, about simply being,” she said.

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