The Tao Te Ching seems an unlikely
source of inspiration for the corporate rebranding of luxury
products. This spiritual guidebook written by Lao Tsu, a peer of
Confucius, contains lines such as I am aimless and depressed, There
is no greater sin than desire and (my personal favorite) Ruling the
country is like cooking a small fish.
But last week,
there was Jay Witzel, head of hotels and cruises for Carlson,
beginning his address to the press, key suppliers and agents by
discussing the Tao of Regent to describe the philosophy behind the
newly blended cruise-and-hotel brand.
Tao was defined by
Marilyn Carlson Nelson, in her remarks, as a path of virtuous
conduct. Freedom, choice and service figure prominently in the Tao
of Regent (far, far better options than depression, sin and small
fish). The Tao of Regent answers the questions that havent yet been
asked, serves others as if serving oneself, hears and sees needs
before a need even forms in a guests mind.
Given the high-end
target demographics for Regent, the brands Tao is both virtuous and
I wish we had a
different word [for luxury], Nelson said, ruing that the term has
been overused. She offered, if not a new word, a new definition of
luxury for this generation: choice, access and intimacy.
If the guardians of
the new Regent brand focus on the word choice in particular, they
will have something at least as valuable as the blessing of Lao Tsu
-- they will have the blessing of researchers at Stanford, Columbia
In an article about
choice and social class that ran in the New York Times Magazine
last month, authors Barry Schwartz, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana
Conner Snibbe cited studies done at those universities that contain
lessons not only for marketers of luxury brands but contra-lessons
for marketers of mass brands.
The studies support
the hypothesis that if youre educated and have money, youll equate
choice with freedom. That is not so surprising. But what may be a
revelation was that the word choice inspired insecurity and
uncertainty in the working class.
One study showed
that among people whose parents had no more than a high school
education, the word choice was more closely associated with fear,
doubt and difficulty than freedom, action and control (the latter
being descriptors that the offspring of college graduates
When presented with
a choice of pens they could keep as a gift, the working class felt
no more attachment to the pen than if they had been given one at
random. But college-educated folk assigned special value to a pen
simply because they had chosen it themselves.
Likewise, if the
neighbors of college grads should buy the same type of car that
they own, they will value their own car less -- their copycat
neighbors will have diminished their sense of individuality. On the
other hand, a working-class car buyer was likely to feel reassured
he or she made the right choice if a neighbor purchases the same
make and model.
But too much choice
is too much of a good thing, even for the educated elites, the
article concludes. They, too, will begin to feel an increase in
stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction if presented with an abundance
In other words, in
the words of Lao Tsu, in fact, He who knows that enough is enough
will always have enough.
And for the working
class, Lao Tsu looks with dignity at their lack of desire for
differentiation through material consumption:
I have three
treasures which I hold and keep. The first is mercy; the second is
economy; the third is daring not to be ahead of others.
The Tao of Regent
is not for the masses, but there are plenty of other industry
brands where the masses can find happiness -- perhaps,
interestingly enough, within the portfolio of a company called