Are we wit­ness­ing the death of bling?

Even when the re­ces­sion ends, value – not brand – may rule sales

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA & MARKETING - LYNN MADE­LEY

IWAS chat­ting to a client at the beginning of the year, just as the re­ces­sion was beginning to bite, and he men­tioned that Gucci had sent non-branded car­rier bags to all its stores in New York. This got me think­ing a bit more than I had al­ready been about the eco­nomic cri­sis and I re­alised that most of us have a rather uni­faceted and short-term view of the sit­u­a­tion.

What we fo­cus on is that peo­ple are not able to af­ford things as they did dur­ing the boom times. But there is an­other more long-term di­men­sion, one that I be­lieve will make it­self felt long af­ter the eco­nomic tide turns again.

There is the pos­si­bil­ity that peo­ple will no longer want to buy cer­tain things, even if they have the money to do so. Be­ing rich and flaunt­ing your wealth could just go out of fash­ion, in much the same way that fur coats be­came vul­gar and at­tracted pub­lic out­rage in the 1980s.

Is it go­ing to be­come vul­gar once more to talk about money and show your wealth? Are we about to wit­ness the death of bling?

If we are, the ef­fect on lux­ury brands is go­ing to be pretty sig­nif­i­cant. The “noughties” decade saw an unashamed global trend to­wards flash ma­te­ri­al­ism. The more bling the bet­ter. But re­cently there has been a shift. Women are stash­ing their LV hand­bags at the back of their cup­boards, the di­a­mond-en­crusted gent’s Rolex is be­ing put into the safe for an­other day.

As we wean our­selves off th­ese lux­ury brands, our ad­dic­tion to them is slowly ebbing away. I can’t af­ford the BMW but no mat­ter – I now have an emo­tional pref­er­ence not to buy one; it’s no longer fash­ion­able to have the lux­ury brand item. Of course, lux­ury goods will al­ways have a mar­ket, but the global trend of bling is slowly dy­ing. May it rest in peace, some may add.

So what is the best way for a brand, lux­ury or not, to re­act?

A re­cent study by Euro RSCG in New York un­cov­ered, un­sur­pris­ingly per­haps, the fact that con­sumers are afraid. On a con­tin­uum of “no anx­i­ety” to “se­vere anx­i­ety”, the av­er­age per­son is sit­ting at 72 per­cent to­wards anx­i­ety. This anx­i­ety fac­tor has caused peo­ple to go back to ba­sics, to lean to­wards tra­di­tional val­ues. In other words, to throw out crass ma­te­ri­al­ism and brand ado­ra­tion, and to make more cere­bral de­ci­sions about what to pur­chase.

One might ex­pect the eco­nomic de­pres­sion to gen­er­ate a mass search for the cheapest item, but the re­search proved that this is not nec­es­sar­ily the case. In fact, quite the con­trary. There is an in­creas­ing con­vic- tion that low prices do not au­to­mat­i­cally equate to good value.

In a mar­ket flooded with sales and spe­cials, low prices can gen­er­ate scep­ti­cism, a sense that un-sell­able rub­bish is be­ing fobbed off on bar­gain­hunt­ing con­sumers. The poor qual­ity con­trol of mass-pro­duced cheap prod­ucts com­ing out of Asia feeds this scep­ti­cism. The study also found that nearly 60 per­cent of con­sumers will buy only from a com­pany they trust, an un­sur­pris­ing trend given their high lev­els of anx­i­ety.

So if con­sumers aren’t looking for the cheapest item avail­able, what are they looking for? The an­swer is value. Value that is not about price but about qual­ity. Peo­ple want some­thing more for the same price, some­thing that will last longer.

Peo­ple want to feel that their hard-earned money is buy­ing some­thing worth­while. In­creas­ingly, they recog­nise that buy­ing cheap is tak­ing a risk, and so­ci­ety is cur­rently very risk-averse. Get­ting good value is there­fore about mak­ing the sen­si­ble choice.

And while hype-in­flated brands are not the sen­si­ble choice, nei­ther is a cheap and nasty prod­uct. If lux­ury items are to sur­vive be­yond the cur­rent fi­nan­cial cri­sis, they will need to rely on their qual­ity, not just their la­bel.

Made­ley is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Euro RSCG South Africa

PIC­TURE: GREG BAKER / AP

LUX­URY MOD­ELS: Vis­i­tors ad­mire a BMW Z4 at a mo­tor show in Bei­jing, China.

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