I was speaking with a vice
president for a well-known luxury hotel brand when I introduced the
word "luxury" into the conversation.
"Oh, the L-word,"
the vice president said, with a roll of his eyes.
I asked if his
reaction to the word suggested that he thought it was no longer an
appropriate label for his hotels.
personal," he replied. "The word luxury has become so overused and
Is "upscale" any
somewhat weak and doesn't really mean luxury. In fact, I don't want
an upscale anything. I want a luxury car. I want a luxury
But a lot can be
read into that roll of the eyes. If you're a guardian of a legacy
luxury brand, it must be more than a little annoying that the word
has proved to be more elastic than traditionally assumed. Thousands
of companies have discovered that positioning oneself as "luxury"
is a great marketing strategy. As the hotel exec said, upscale
won't do. If you want to add luster to your brand, label it
Not only does
everyone want luxury, everyone gets luxury. They may not live in
the same neighborhoods, but both the hoity-toity and the hoi polloi
are likely to be carrying similar Louis Vuitton bags and, on
occasion, checking into the same hotels.
Is this a bad
thing? Certainly not for luxury hotels. At the highest reaches --
the money-is-no-object reaches -- hoteliers can always command a
price that will keep the upwardly mobile riff-raff out. And as
economic systems abhor a vacuum, the trickle-up effect on rates and
amenities has benefits for hoteliers and consumers throughout the
That there is now a
"luxury chain" is nothing short of a revolution. At the dawn of
2007, luxury has become broadly inclusive. Can such an oxymoronic
circumstance be sustainable?
replacement word for luxury may have to be invented, but for now,
marketers across a wide spectrum can use and abuse the label with
The appearance of
luxury deflation taps into something very basic in human nature:
the aspiration to be wealthy. The only real question is, what took
marketers so long to discover it could be applied on a broad
The answer is that
it's only obvious now because it's now obvious. I once heard a
speech by Michael Harrington that underscored how it was not
obvious to him. In the early 1960s, Harrington wrote "The Other
America," a book that was widely credited with inspiring the
Johnson-era War on Poverty.
In his speech,
Harrington told how, during George McGovern's run for the
presidency in 1972, he helped craft a policy to increase
inheritance taxes. The campaign decided to unveil the policy during
a speech in a church in Harlem, where it was assumed it would be
During the Q&A
period after the speech, a woman asked the candidate if the new tax
meant that if she won the lottery, her kids wouldn't be able to
inherit her fortune. McGovern acknowledged it would be taxed at a
higher rate. The crowd, which had microscopic odds of ever being in
such a position and would have likely benefited from McGovern's
plan, turned against him.
The moral? Well,
the moral doesn't seem an appropriate closer for the holiday
season, but it may be appropriate for both an emerging political
season and, for many, a brand new fiscal year: It can never hurt to
appeal to materialistic urges, to the desire for status, to our
appetite for pampering or our aspirations to wealth.
Even so, and even
though I believe the "L-word" still has plenty of potency, if I
were putting together a marketing plan I'd likely hedge my bet with
the "G-word," as well. We're in the dead of winter, but the
marketplace, it seems, is getting greener every day.