tribe + impact + independence = the ethics of the new luxury

pulse check: earlier this year i wrote about a shift in culture and luxury marketing, about how i thought attainment would shift to independence. about how “i’ve achieved this level” is becoming “i have the freedom to make this sort of decision, to have this impact.”

what we end up with is a formula change: tribe + impact + independence = the new luxury

two ends to this spectrum have expressed themselves… the establishment generation who has money, and then the next two generations out (gen z and millennials) who might not have the money, but have a conscience and expect to know what the agenda of any given company is, and what the implications of that agenda are.

the new luxury is creating a place where the two ends — the money and the ethics — meet.

earlier this week the ny times reported that art collector and moma president emerita agnes gund sold a 1962 roy lichtenstein for $150 million, for the specific purpose of establishing the art for justice fund. “the effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because ms. gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever.”

of gund’s game changing decision, ford foundation president darren walker said “art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.” gund is at the forefront of a populace embracing the idea of money in service of meaning.

while the young generation may not have the money (yet), their influence on media and use of it as a tool to hold those with the money to task, may be worth more than gold. as jane buckingham of trendera has pointed out, “there are so many crises in their world, they [gen z] believe they’re responsible for helping. they feel they can help, and expect you to have a purpose in what you’re communicating.” 

ethics, continued...

there has been a swift and massive response to the trump administration’s decision to pull out of the paris agreement, and the fallout is scaling the consumer conversation globally.

we are seeing the intersection of consumerism and ethics grow wider. big brands like microsoft and apple have publicly declared staunch support of the paris agreement, not just for the sake of climate change but for the strength of the american economy. sixty-two percent of exxon mobile shareholders voted in favor of public disclosure of the impact of climate change on the business, and individuals, in the u.s. and abroad, are pledging allegiance to companies that stand with them in their belief of what is right.

people are aligning around their values, and all signs indicate that this growing population is ready, willing, and able to put their money where their mouth is.


while legions of consumers move towards more values-based behavior, some corporate giants are moving in the direction of, well, creepy.

just before the holiday weekend, google announced its plan “to track billions of credit and debit card sales to compare online ad clicks with money spent offline.”

this might mean more metrics for advertisers, but, no matter how google slices it, less privacy for everyone else.

if you feel that this may be tipping into google doing like, maybe a little bit of evil, this is how to ensure your settings don’t allow them access, courtesy of’s researchers:

“Users can opt out of the service by going to their ads setting page and unchecking the box that says: “Also use Google Account activity and information to personalise ads on these websites and apps and store that data in your Google Account”.

Users can also disable personalisation for all Google ads. And they can pause or delete their location history.”  

and to ensure that the brands you like don’t partake in this little bit of evil, write and let them know you don’t want to be tracked that way.

ford shake-up #changepositive

two years ago, i asked the question “what does it look like to be change-positive? to create with the knowledge of change?”

the question is a constant spark to my curiosity, and the recent leadership shakeup at ford fuels it. i see change-knowledge as equal parts art and science. a proactive perspective on past, present, and potential.

ford ceo mark fields was replaced with “change agent” jim hackett.

while the move is seen by some as uncharacteristic for the methodical company, a usa today article cites bill ford jr. as saying “hackett’s ability to pair a focus on the future with operational improvements was enticing.”

hackett’s change-knowledge positioned him to lead the charge as ford tries to not just survive, but thrive.

new luxury: bye bye bill

the same forces reshaping luxury seem to be reshaping television.

when it comes to ethics, network news has long been a team sport — you watch who you believe in and retain peripheral interest in the rest. maybe. (the phrase “preaching to the choir” comes to mind.) but in this brave new world where ethics guide how we spend our money and time it appears that even big brands can be forced to bend to the will of the consumer. fox was good to quietly support bill o’reilly, the show’s advertisers were not. the advertisers, luxury cars amongst them, were listening to their consumers… shaping the new luxury.

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