People have had enough of 2020. That’s clear the world over. But as the year turns into the next, some of the biggest consumer marketing opportunities reach their calendar cycle and it has left many marketers unsure of how to play it. For luxury brands, it's even more perplexing.
Amid a tough year, there's a concern for luxury brands that economic uncertainty requires a more sensitive approach to higher-priced items. Despite this, marketing and branding experts believe that while empathy needs to be exercised, what consumers really want now is happiness and the luxe brands have the opportunity to spread some joy this festive season.
Amy Kean, founder of Six Things Impossible, believes that brands should take on the responsibility of putting more optimistic messaging into the world: “If there’s one thing that luxury brands are good at, it’s being slick. Based on the response we’ve seen to ads like Gucci’s Christmas party, people just want brilliant filmmaking that gives them all the positive feels.
“The unwritten brief this year from consumers was clear: ’We’ve cried enough in 2020, just make us happy!’ With news of a Covid vaccine emerging, the global population is looking to 2021 as a beacon of hope, and we want brands to reassure us that good times are coming again.”
This sentiment is echoed by Lewis Hackney, founder of Etch’d, but comes with a warning that brands do need to be sensitive in the way they execute on this: “Purchasing a luxury item is a pick-me-up – it makes us feel better and like we are moving up in the world (albeit perhaps temporarily) when everything around us feels negative. Many people feel sad right now, which means there is a demand for these products and the feelings they bring.
“It is a fine balance. Ultimately, brands shouldn’t look like they’re obviously capitalising upon Covid-19 misfortune by overly positioning their products as an emotional escape/fix following a tough year. They will have to be more discreet and subtle. They can’t be seen to be opportunistic.”
Having a human tone
The key to doing this is in tone, making sure that brands tap into a more human way of speaking and behaving with their customers, according to Studio Black Tomato’s brand strategist Sophia Kay.
She explains: “People are taking some comfort in the fact that the world is still moving – albeit at a slower pace. While it’s natural to feel worried that ‘selling’ in the current context is crass or ill-timed, to go completely quiet would be even more unsettling. Just as brands responded to the 2008 financial crash, it’s about altering your tone to be more human and service-oriented, offering flexibility and reassurance – for example in terms of bookings or payments – while continuing to inspire and create room for people to dream.”
The last beacon of pampering
The festive period has started in many countries, with India’s Diwali kicking off a season of festivities, while Christmas shopping and sales days are in full throttle and Chinese New Year will extend this even further into 2021.
For Humphry Ho, managing director of Hylink Digital, this period is key for consumers that are really in need of some positivity and it’s actually only the luxury brands that can do this properly.
He explains: “Luxury brands must approach this as the last beacon of pampering. Pampering services are closed and everyday luxuries are gone. What’s left? Buying yourself something because you deserve it. More so, little gifts, accessories to products also work because they’re smaller ticket items and can actually add to an existing user’s collection, a new strap perhaps? Or a matching wallet? But truth be told, those that have the disposables were better off during the recession, so their core consumer is intact. Their aspirational target needs something to look forward to.
”An emotional message or advert is what we all need a little of, and can only be pulled off by luxury brands. We’re finding luxury brands and upper premium category cosmetics to perform particularly well with video and interactive messages to their aspirational and core consuming audience.”
Emotional ads and PTSD
Using emotion comes with a heavy burden, however, says Six Things Impossible’s Kean, who advises that happiness and joy is the best route. This is because the difficulties of this year are still too fresh to be over-using in creative executions.
“We talk a lot about mental health in the ad world, but they’re shallow conversations that generally only get so far as telling people to talk about their depression. Ads can affect people in different ways, especially ads that are too gritty or emotional. Especially in a recession, consumers are looking for escapism, not an ad that triggers their PTSD from an extremely traumatic year. So my recommendation is no loneliness, no ’we’ll meet again’ soundtracks, enough with the Zoom-led creatives and separated families... brands may think they’re being ’timely’, but actually, they’re just reminding us of how much we’ve been through this year.”
As for the brands already doing this well, Studio Black Tomato’s Kay says WWF’s attempt to draw parallels between our small world via the human condition and complex emotions “draws on the fundamentals of good storytelling – an ability to open our eyes, burst the bubble and completely transport us beyond a world of video calls and box sets we’ve become all too used to.”
Basic comforts but high end
However, Gucci’s ‘Gucci Fest’ was selected by both Kean and Hackney for its playful nostalgia, impressive direction from Akinola Davies Jr and having a luxury twist on normal.
“Gucci has hit the nail on the head,” says Hackney. “It has managed to integrate both high end and mainstream with its series, which was all subtly placed around normality. Some of its films were based around an everyday event, such as going to a café – a basic comfort that brings us reassurance at troubling and uncertain times.“
The challenge of using emotion during the high point of a tough year is also the opportunity for luxury marketers. With many challenges still ahead for many people around the world still dealing with the pandemic, the advice and lessons from this festive period will have importance for brands throughout the coming year and beyond.