new luxury, new stories

we’ve talked about the current cultural conversation around ethics, and the new consumer conversation around luxury. but where the rubber meets the road is in the conversation between brands and consumers.

ethics as the new luxury won’t affect advertising and marketing as much as it will messaging. the shift won’t be on spend, but on the stories that get told. 

the march issue of departures offers a solid example of this in its story into the blue. “while the maldives struggles to deal with the rising seas of climate change, new resorts like the st. regis are doing their small part.” that line alone — the rising seas of climate change — would eliminate a swath of conservative consumers who “don’t believe” in global warming, but triggers passionate support among a much larger segment whose politics have commandeered their wallets.

the idea of eco-travel or ethical fashion is not new — for years companies like elevate destinations and designers like stella mccartney have built their brands on the idea of ethical luxury. but now it’s not just a side conversation with a conscientious few. the new luxury is a mainstage badge of social responsibility, impact, and alignment. so each message has to be an invitation to not only buy, but to be part of the solution.

formula change: luxury

now that we know what we mean when we say ethics and values, let’s look at what we mean when we say luxury.

because what we, culture, means by luxury has changed.

luxury has been defined, for decades, by a trifecta of exclusivity: tribe, attainment, and craftsmanship.

tribe is the social badge of a purchase: who you associate with, who you share values with. attainment is status, the level that must be achieved to allow you to afford access to such a purchase. and craftsmanship is the quality of construction of an object. in the instance of luxury objects, it’s high quality.

quality is rarely the prime motivator in the calculus of a purchase, but it pretends to be. quality is the cocktail party rationale for a purchase.

let’s say you drive a mercedes g-class suv. it speaks to your level of attainment and tribe, but the conversation is often about its quality. its durability and engineering, its resale value… but it’s the other two factors that are more likely to have motivated getting that car onto a short list for purchase.

if ethics is the new luxury, then the formula shifts.

tribe doesn’t change — we are still aligning ourselves with those who share our values. but the cocktail conversation about quality shifts to impact. “this exquisitely crafted bag is not only made within a fair trade collective… 10% of proceeds go to support the (insert badge association here) and…”

because it’s no longer enough for something to be well made — craftsmanship is a cost of entry. the new luxury is how much downstream impact a purchase has. how much influence.

in this new conversation i believe we will see attainment shift to independence. “i’ve achieved this level” becomes “i have the freedom to make this sort of decision, to have this impact.”

tribe + impact + independence = the new luxury

what do we mean: ethics

working on a re-brand or product launch, certain words will come up over and over in conversation with clients. over the years i’ve found it’s good to make sure everyone in the conversation has the same meaning in mind when using the words, whatever they might be.

we all keep saying the same thing, but i want to make sure we are meaning the same thing, so we “go to the dictionary” to gain clarity around what is actually being expressed — and to avoid costly trips down the rabbit hole of miscommunication.

if ethics is the new luxury, and values are driving both consumer and brand decisions, then we need to be clear on what we mean when we say “ethics” and “values.” what currency do those words have in our culture and how does our culture express it? 

the dictionary definition of ethics includes phrases like “a system of moral principles,” “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group culture, etc,” and “the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.”

consumer and brand values are then the “relative worth, merit, or importance” they place on a set of moral principles. what they are willing to stand by as right action, and what they’re willing to stand down as wrong.

the current cultural conversation around ethics seems to hinge upon this polarization of rightness and wrongness, particularly when it comes to the values of humanity, equality, respect, and honesty.

this is how every purchase is becoming an expression of ethics. how culture is bringing philosophy into the center of commerce, asking “do you stand for what i stand for?”

ethics is the new luxury

u.s. culture has been thrown into a bit of a tizzy, and in the fray it’s reframing luxury. while the classical conversation on luxury has always been grounded in craftsmanship, the new conversation appears to be biasing to ethics and values.

there’s an emerging overlap where the money of older generations and the values of millennials are aligning in a way that is driving both makers and consumers to put their money where their mouth is. and in the process they are resetting what the new luxury badge purchase looks like.

gone are the days where global brands play their values cards close to their chest. as more and more ceos on the frontline of pop culture — including airbnb’s brian chesky, facebook’s mark zuckerberg, apple’s tim cook, and levi’s chip bergh — make their ethics known, they are being met by a surging consumer expectation for transparency on issues of sustainability, equality, and human rights. don’t like a brand’s values, don’t buy. don’t like a demographic’s values, don’t sell.

if the new york times is right and 2016 was “the year politics took over our closets,” 2017 may be the year it takes over our cars and travel itineraries, too.

cars, cars, cars

the year kicks off with the detroit motor show. “the future is here,” they tell us. must be, when the self-driving cars of the future are suddenly of the now. looking forward to seeing what’s next in the luxury and electric markets (are they even separate anymore?), how the ford skedaddle plays out, and what the european shows will bring. in fact, january in detroit is an excellent place to plan the dream road trip… shanghai in april, late summer in moscow, frankfurt and paris in the fall…

now what?

most brands that i work with put a fair amount of investment into reaching their audience through social media. but the nation is tired. in a USAToday article Jon Swartz reported that “The abrupt decision to turn off the social media spigot of news — 62% of U.S. adults get their news from it, says the Pew Research Center — as well other media that covered the polarizing election resembles reactions people have after a car crash or assault.”

fomo becomes lma (leave me alone).

the wise brand pays attention.

hope is power

i had planned on writing about the role of a transition team today, the team that comes in to lead the first phase of a large scale change. i’ve been on many.

instead i’m remembering a project that hal and i created at the very beginning of our careers. ‘hope is power’ for amnesty international.

hope is power.

hope is a feeling, a force that helps you stay with what you value over what you fear. a focus on your vision of the possible through adversity and challenge. hope is a fierce strength, and an extraordinary tonic.  i’ll look for the project and post it here. i’m grateful to have a task at the moment. hope is power. i know it’s there. somewhere.