By James D. Roumeliotis
“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).
This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.
Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”
Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.
Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:
“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”
Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test as follows:
- Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
- Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
- Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
- Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
- Does the brand offer authenticity?
Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.
“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.
Identifying luxury sectors
Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:
1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.
2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)
3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.
Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status
Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.
Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:
Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.
Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.
Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.
Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.
“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category
The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).
In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.
“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined
If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.
These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.
“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.
Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.
The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.
On a final note
When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.
As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.
As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.
Request your TWO FREE chapters of this popular book with no obligation.