“Why do people pay the enormous price premiums for luxury brands?” consultant Daniel Langer asks at scmp.com. “Most people perceive luxury as mainly bought to signal power. But what if this answer is too simple? What if there are other hidden reasons?” Like an appreciation for luxury watches’ design, construction and heritage? Mr. Langer has other ideas . . .
To uncover Patek Philippe buyers’ “secret motivation,” the self-professed Professor of Luxury Strategy and Extreme Value Creation at Pepperdine University in Malibu (I kid you not) designed an experiment.
We asked study participants to evaluate a person in a luxury setting compared to one in a “normal” setting. As an example, a woman was wearing a dress. Half of the respondents were told that the dress is from Chanel, the other half told it was from H&M.
We Photoshopped another woman into both a Bentley and into a Volkswagen. A man was wearing a Patek Philippe in one setting and a Swatch in another. Study participants were told to evaluate the person against a set of descriptors.
The answers were mind-blowing. The luxury context was always dramatically more positive than the normal context.
Among other results, two dimensions stood out: attractiveness and expertise. The same woman was seen as significantly more beautiful, even as a head-turner, when she was in the Bentley, while she was just moderately attractive in the Volkswagen.
When respondents were told that the woman was dressed in Chanel, they assumed that she was much smarter, including the ability to play the piano or the assumption of higher education. She was also more attractive.
Likewise the woman in the Bentley was perceived as having a much higher level of expertise. The results were similar for the man wearing the Patek.
Mind not blown.
Professor Langer’s study backs up the analysis he set out to debunk: people buy luxury goods to “signal power.” Power meaning status. Status from being perceived as physically attractive, smart and capable of knocking out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on a Steinway. And wealthy. What about wealthy?
Definitely wealthy. A Patek Philippe signals an abundance of financial resources. Is it any wonder people view its wearer as more attractive and intelligent? Given the capital required to purchase a $50k watch – and still have money left for groceries – they probably are.
I know that’s not a very PC statement. But we’re talking science here. Genetics. Human evolution. And sure, there are Patek-wearing trustafarians with limited candle power. But money makes the world go around. Truth be told, most people are dying to go for a spin.
Hang on. How many people even recognize a Patek Philippe? What if the man in the Volkswagen wore a gold Rolex President – a watch that says money like a Victoria’s Secret model says sex?
Also, what did the man look like? Was he a sixty-something in a Brioni suit or a twenty-something in a lululemon hoodie? Black, Hispanic, Asian, white? (Patek ads couldn’t be more white if they tried.)
Equally, who were the study’s test subjects? What was their age, sex, ethnicity, income level and geographical location? How someone perceives luxury products depends on all these factors and more. Which are easily excluded if you’re a luxury brand consultant making your money selling piercing glimpses into the obvious.
The extreme value of a luxury brand is not in the products and its features, but in the ability to make people feel more attractive and smarter.
That statement downplays the importance of quality (“products and features”) and assumes a direct connection between how people perceive someone wearing a luxury item and how the wearer perceives themselves. I think the first bit’s wrong and the second bit’s right.
The vast majority of luxury watch buyers feel psychologically bolstered by the timepiece on their wrist. They value its ability to project an attractive image of intelligence and success (i.e., wealth).
I’d like to know why some luxury watches are better at that than others. How much is tied to product, how much to marketing? Perhaps Professor Langer could provide some freebie insights.
Meanwhile, let it be known that I couldn’t give a damn what someone thinks about my watch. I wear it because I like it. To wit: I’ve taken to wearing pocket watches. Which are, you know, hidden in my pocket. And no I don’t wait ’til someone’s looking to remove it for a time check.
Or am I just telling myself I don’t care about projecting status? That deep down my fragile ego’s calling the horological shots? No. I went to a garden party. I learned you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.
I like to believe it’s true of you, too. That you appreciate luxury watches for what they are, not what they “do.” Except make you grateful to live in a world where you can patronize (in the good sense) the work of designers, engineers and craftsmen dedicated to horological excellence in all its forms.
Am I wrong?