Thursday, September 22, 2011

If I have one life, let me live it as a luxury marketer

A few weeks ago, my sister Trish gave me a copy of her alumni rag for the NYU Stern business school. On the cover was a picture of a white-gloved hand about to ping a front desk bell resting on diamonds.

In real life, those diamonds were no doubt cubic zirconium posing as diamonds, but the point was made: Trish’s alma mater has a new specialization.

Forget hedge funds, the new road to MBA riches is through luxury marketing.

There was no ‘let them eat cake’ quote, but the article does include a side bar with a bit from 19th century American historian and diplomat, John Lothrop Motley:

Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with its necessaries.

Which may well be where our country’s magical mystery tour ends up: with the luxuries of life granted to the few, who will proceed to dispense to the many whatever necessaries they deign to grant us, which, as it looks, is unlikely to include health care or postal service – the provision of which, apparently, are socialist plots.

With an incredibly shrinking middle to market to, it’s no surprise that canny consumer marketers would follow the money to the luxury sectors. But the drivers here are no longer just the hedgies at the wheels of their Maseratis, but, increasingly, the rising upper-crusts in the BRIC countries. Let’s hope that some of their wealth trickles over in the same way that domestic wealth, as we are repeatedly assured, trickles down. (Hmmmmm. Now that I think about the word choice here, we should have been more focused on that word “trickle”, rather than on the word “down.”)

Anyway, now that Stern-os can sign up for a degree in luxury marketing, I decided to go straight to the horse’s thoroughbred’s mouth: The NYU-Stern School website, where I learned that:

The specialization in Luxury Marketing allows students to develop the perspective and skills necessary to pursue careers in the luxury sector… Luxury industry companies who have hired Stern graduates recently include Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale's, Chanel, Coach, Herm├Ęs, and Tiffany & Co.

Within this concentration,  students can learn about Prestige Brands in a Digital Age, Doing Business in Italy, and – for a bit of domestic bliss – Operations in Entertainment: Las Vegas.

Wonder if you could combine some of what you learn in Operations in Entertainment: Las Vegas with Doing Business in Italy and figure out how to market directly to the needs and wants of mega-lux buyer, Silvio Berlusconi – kind of a double major.

Personally, I find it somewhat disheartening that some very bright young MBA things will be so focused on getting Richie Rich to step up from a near-Timex Breguet pocket watch going for a mere $734,000, to Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon priced at $1.3M. (Source: Menpulse – whatever that is.) This is perhaps because,  mired in the bourgeois, middle-class, middle-brow demographic that nobody wants to market to anymore, I somehow persist in believing that there is a point of diminishing returns on the value and utility of an object.

I understand that new Camry is more comfortable and runs better than an old beater bought at a buy-here-pay-here used car lot, and that a new Audi is probably more comfortable and runs better than that Camry.  That $15 shoes from Pay-Less will fall apart quicker than the $100/pair shoes ordered from Zappo’s; and that a pair of handcrafted shoes built to (your own personal) last beat Zappo’s.

And I do believe that someone with a lot of money has every right in the world to spend that lot of money on whatever they want.

But does a $1.3M watch really tell the time much more accurately than a $734K one?

And does jacking someone up so that they start believing that nothing is good enough for them really add all that much value to the world?

Unfortunately, there’s probably no point in figuring out to market to going-going-gone middle class these days. It’s either you-get-what-you-get at the Dollar Store, or jewel-encrusted toilet paper holders for cashmere t.p.

The Luxury Marketing MBA may well be a step in an inevitable direction, but, as an indicator of where the world is going, it ain’t necessarily a step in the right one.

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A tip of the platinum trimmed mortarboard to my sister Trish, a Stern School grad of a kinder, gentler era.

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