Meaning. Working with luxury brands, it’s something we think much about. But ‘meaning’ itself is under attack. We explore what that’s about, and why real meaning goes beyond clever marketing.

It's the eighth in our series of ‘Brand Matters’ for Luxury Briefing: the renowned international magazine for the luxury industry.

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In psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's famed ‘Man's Search for Meaning’ he writes that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. His believes our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud said, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful. 

Meaningfulness. Being involved with luxury brands; it’s something we think much about. Because an innate ‘meaningfulness’ adds meaning beyond the clever sophistry of marketing. At least some luxury brand companies have faith that ‘meaning’ is actually worthwhile. Sadly, ‘meaning’ is under attack.

Andrew Marr writes that ‘AI, conspiracy theories and a paranoid appetite for fake news offer the illusion of power – and of meaning. He says we are living through a period in world history in which Western populations have lost their heft and security. People are scared.’ Certainly, we are seeing increasing cynicism in our public institutions.

According to the FT (Nov.23) Luxury brands are ‘slow to improve transparency’: ’Several industry names shun sustainability survey despite boards placing higher value on responsible practices

What does this mean? It means simply truth, heritage and depth should be more important. The legacy part – usually European poor craftspeople, monks or widowed wine estate holders – may be seen as either a brand burden relegated to the About Us tab at the bottom of the site. Or a brand asset depending on the reader’s/ viewer’s point of view. Communicated correctly without being grandiose, it remains one vital sign that your brand can be trusted.

We used to have proper editors (yes, mainly in the mainstream media) who did boring things like fact check, and credit proper sources. They did not throw out fake red meat to whatever tribe was required to keep their particular media ship afloat.

So, if commentators are saying we will see a new sort of politician – more forthright and assertive – to point out exaggeration and untruth, it may put a different tonal emphasis on how brands behave.

There are some ahead of game. I like the recent Patek ‘Story’ campaign. They balance humanity and humility just about right, in an unshowy way.  Eg ‘A 100 year responsibility. A story about commitment’ and ‘Only human’ a story about skill. And one small close-up visual centre page., and the President’s signature. Deliberately classic.

I like Brunello Cucinelli’s site which opens on a Kant quote: ‘Beauty is the symbol of the morally good’.  It gets better. Cucinelli’s speech to the G20 summit is quoted in full headlined: ‘Humanistic Capitalism and Human Sustainability’….

‘…my early years spent in the countryside, my life in a farming family, left the seed and then the sprout of Humanistic Capitalism and Human Sustainability in my soul. Ours, my family's, was a life in contact with nature, because nature gave us everything. Indeed, we did not even have electricity, and we worked the land with animals, and collected rainwater. There was mutual respect between us and nature, and everything was done in harmony with Creation.

I dreamed of a business to make profits ethically, with dignity, without causing suffering to people and offence to Creation, or at least as little as possible. I liked to envisage more pleasant workplaces, where one could enjoy the view outside, and I wanted people to earn a little more, because we are all thinking souls, and because we can no longer turn our backs on poverty.’

Sincere meaning – and indeed happiness to shareholders - is an alpaca and cotton cardigan costing £1850. That’s luxury branding, that is.

Easy to mock, but I come to praise not bury. Meaning is not just important politically, it’s also cultural and psychological. Of course, marketers have to understand how to influence human behaviour, and connect with them based on who their customers really are. Hence planning, data analysis, quant ‘n qual….a veritable industry trying to gain truth, insight and in this increasingly fractured world, meaning.

Everyone talks about change.  But in a counter-intuitive way, luxury brand marketers must be concerned with what is unchanging – there are still universal meanings, motivations and compulsions that drive the luxury consumer.

Humanity hasn’t changed such a lot there. Some constants remain. If the history of luxury teaches us anything, it is its ability to adapt. The rich will still like a good deal. People will still want to party. That bigger house on the hill is still aspirational. The need for applause never goes away…

Status, display/’brag’ value, pride, belonging, identity, vanity, being of value, of being loved, of self-love. Social media has encouraged these behavioural aspects. Luxury taps into the innate desire we all have to believe in something real. It’s a responsibility to people.

As Father John Misty puts in Pure Comedy: ‘I hate to say it, but each other's all we got’

Read more from our Brand Matters series:

  • The enduring importance of craftsmanship here
  • Why craftsmanship's vulnerability will win in the tech world here.
  • Creativity: From Origins to AI here
  • Luxury is ageing gracefully here
  • Thinking luxuriously here
  • How distance creates desire here
  • Why the pursuit of authenticity paramount for luxury brands here

A little more on Anew - a London-based luxury branding Agency

Anew’s two founders deliver: insights from market research, strategic brand thinking, new brand names, luxury logo design, messaging, online and offline content, coffee table books and luxury brand websites. We help companies increase brand profitability through sharper insights, distinctive propositions, creative ideas and faultless execution.

To get in touch do drop us an email. We'd be delighted to meet for a coffee, either face-to-face or virtually to discuss your brief.

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