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«Luxury Fashion Branding Creating and Sustaining a Successful Luxury Brand Identity through Communication BA MMC Thesis Aarhus School of Business and ...»

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Christina Ø. Hammer 05 May 2011

Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences

Exam no: 286193 BA MMC Thesis

Luxury Fashion Branding

Creating and Sustaining a Successful Luxury Brand Identity

through Communication

BA MMC Thesis

Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences

Department of Language and Business Communication

May 2011

By: Christina Østergaard Hammer

Supervisor: Eva Aas Søndergaard

Page 1 of 41 Christina Ø. Hammer 05 May 2011 Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences Exam no: 286193 BA MMC Thesis Summary Luxury brand communication was fairly easy in the past; commerce was national, competition was moderate and consumers, who were loyal and uncritical, were easy to segment and characterise (Okonkwo, 2007, p.36, 99). This has nevertheless changed, as luxury brands, today, face a highly competitive and globalised market and critical consumers with sky-high demands for pleasure and creativity that, moreover, are difficult to segment due to a general increase in wealth that has made luxury more or less available for all (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p. 13 & Okonkwo, 2007, pp. 3, 65The above has obviously created challenges for luxury fashion brands that struggle to create synergy between today’s need for globalisation and constant recreation of originality on one side – that in itself can be challenging to manage - and luxury fashion brands’ fundamental traits of tradition and heritage that must be respected and treasured on the other (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p.126, Okonkwo, 2007, p.3).

The presented issues obviously makes it quite complicated to construct an appropriate luxury brand identity, and the thesis thus aims to answer what possibilities luxury fashion brands have in order to sustain a successful luxury brand identity and image in the future through advertising in printed media and public relations events, more specifically fashion shows. This is examined by conducting a comparative analysis of the successful luxury fashion brands Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren, in which their brand identity strategies in relation to the above defined traditional communication activities are studied.

Seeing that there is an explicit focus on the sender of communication and specific communication activities, in order to reach an understanding of how Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton communicate their brand identity, what they communicate and why, thetheoretical position of the thesis is founded on Methodological hermenutics, as developed by Frederich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), where the aim is to understand the author of a text and his emotions, intentions and thoughts behind it by means of interpretation through the hermeneutic circle (Sheratt, 2005, p.59).

Theoretically, the thesis is mainly founded on industry specific theory, created by luxury experts U. Okonkwo, J.N. Kapferer, V. Bastien, M. Chevalier and G. Mazzalovo, seeing that luxury brand communication differs from traditional brand communication in that luxury brands communicate to

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strengthen a unique identity and create the notion of a dream, whereas mass and premium brands communicate in order to sell and position themselves (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p.121, 210).

Well-known and respected branding and public relations practitioners, such as Kotler (2009), Tench and Yeomans (2009) and Pickton and Broderick (2005) have also been applied when relevant.

Through a rhetorical analysis of the commentary in Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton’s fashion show videos, and a visual, semiotic (Barthes, 1977) and formal analysis of the respective brands’ printed ads, it became apparent that the two successful luxury brands construct and communicate two completely different brand identities, through their printed ads and fashion shows, but that the identities, however, are founded on similar, underlying facets of intangible and tangible values and qualities. Based on theory and the findings of the analysis, it can thus be concluded that luxury brands must emphasise and communicate particular facets in their printed ads and fashion shows in order to create and maintain a successful luxury identity, but that they simultaneously also must make sure to construct the communication of these facets differently to appear unique and matchless, get the consumers’ attention and beat competition (Okonkwo, 2007, p. 66-67, 105).

Although the communication of the facets must be constructed differently, it is according to the above mentioned theorists evident that certain guidelines must be considered when constructing the communication of the facets. The apparent, overall dilemma of luxury branding, between the need for tradition on one hand and for creativity and recreation on the other, should be managed by distinguishing core identity traits from peripheral traits; treasuring and respecting the core and continually recreating the peripheral to fit the societal demand for creativity, excitement and trendiness (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p.126).

As a final note, it is important to stress that a brand identity is created through various manifestations of which traditional communication activities is one (Chevalier &Mazzalovo, 2008, p.269), and it is consequently not enough to solely examine brand identity creation through this channel, if success should be secured. Additionally, it must also be stressed that the ultimate success of a luxury brand depends on the public’s perception and their image of the brand, which, as such, cannot be controlled by the brand. By communicating the central characteristics of the brand identity in a coherent and consistent manner, the gap between the brand identity and the brand image can, however, be decreased according to Kapferer and Bastien (2009, p.126).

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Summary: Characters (without spaces): 4,319 / 2,200 = 1.96 pages Thesis: Characters (without spaces): 54,994 / 2,200 = 24.99 pages

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1. Introduction “Luxury” - a word most fashion brands would die to be characterized by but only a few in fact are.

It connotes exclusivity, craftsmanship and uniqueness and justifies sky-high prices (Okonkwo, 2007, p.11). The concept has throughout history played an important role in societies by being a clear indicator of knowledge and social class (Okonkwo, 2007, pp.13-26), and this has not changed in present time. Although, we have been freed from tradition-bound social stratification, this has, according to J.N. Kapferer and V. Bastien (2009), not changed people’s human need for some kind of social class system, and they argue that luxury nowadays function to recreate this for us (p.18).

Being a social marker, luxury fashion products thus play a key role in our creation of identity – it influences how we dress and enables us to signify a certain lifestyle, also if we chose not to buy luxury goods, and this is essential in our modern society, where we tend to define each other based on appearance and product choices (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, pp.18-19,61-62).

In the past it was fairly easy to brand luxury, as competition was moderate and consumers were quite easy to define due to the above mentioned strict, social stratification and the tendency of consumers to remain loyal and uncritical towards a single-brand (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p. 18 & Okonkwo, 2007, p. 3, 65). This has nevertheless changed, as competition has increased and the consumer market has expanded, making it difficult to define whom to target (Okonkwo, 2007, p.3Uche Okonkwo (2007) thus argues that the days are gone when luxury products simply had to be well-designed and expensive in order to sell; “Today’s luxury consumers are different. They have to be surprised, tantalized, captivated, courted, pampered and constantly pleased without end” (p.60).

Put differently, luxury brands nowadays have to constantly keep up with social trends (Chevalier & Mazzalovo, 2008, p.20), and recreate themselves in order to stay successful and competitive (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p.132). Simultaneously, it is nevertheless also crucial for luxury fashion brands to remain faithful to the brand’s roots and original values and vision, if it wishes to keep its luxury status (Kapferer & Bastien, 2009, p.14), and this requirement for maintaining tradition is obviously quite difficult to preserve in communication, when the brand at the same time has to be original and keep up with the spirit of the time.

But the problems do not end here; the importance of maintaining the brand’s origin also contradicts with the fact that luxury brands nowadays, according to Kapferer and Bastien (2009), must go global if they want to survive and stay successful (p.15).

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Based on all of these intertwined and opposing prerequisites of branding and brand communication, is it clear that luxury fashion brands struggle “to find a synergy between its origins in tradition and the requirements of the modern business”, as Uche Okonkwo (2007, p. 3) expresses it.

1.1 Problem Statement Having to keep the presented issues in mind obviously makes it quite complicated to create an appropriate brand identity, and it is therefore interesting to examine how luxury fashion brands should go about it in the future in order to succeed. My thesis thus aims to answer the following

problem statement:

Keeping the rather challenging and contrasting prerequisites of today’s luxury branding in mind, what possibilities do luxury fashion brands have in order to sustain a successful brand identity and image in the future through advertising in printed media and public relations (PR) in relation to events?

Through a comparative analysis of the successful luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren and their strategies in relation to the above defined traditional communication activities, my thesis will seek to answer the presented problem statement.

1.2 Scientific Method The chosen theory of scientific method functions as a framework for the thesis, by determining the choice of method and theory applied, and hereby clarifying how knowledge is considered and obtained.

The theoretical position is founded on Methodological hermenutics, as developed by Frederich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). The term is derived from the Greek word 'hermeneutikos', which means 'to interpret', and this is exactly what hermeneutics aims to do, as a human science, in order to reach understanding (Palmer, 1969, pp.84-86). In Methodological hermeneutics, the aim of interpretation is to understand the author of a text and his emotions, intentions and thoughts behind it by means of the hermeneutic circle that, according to Schleiermacher, enables us to put ourselves in the place of the author (Sheratt, 2005, p.59). The circle consists of two dimensions - a grammatical dimension and a psychological dimension - that in joint create the methodological basis for a general hermeneutic method of interpretation (Palmer, 1996, p.91). The grammatical

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dimension focuses on interpretation and assertion of the general grammatical laws governing a text (Sheratt, 2005, p.61), whereas the psychological dimension aims to gain insight through psychological divination, which according to Sheratt (2005) can be defined as "empathy or identification with the author" (p.61), meaning that you, as interpreter, imagine yourself to be the author and in doing so will reach an understanding of the author's intentions and thoughts.

As the problem statement indicates, the main objective of this thesis is to analyze and interpret specific communication activities- so called 'texts', when applying hermeneutic terminology - of the luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren, in order to reach an understanding of what brand identity they communicate and how. This focus on the sender clearly illustrates that the theoretical position of this thesis is Methodological hermeneutics.

1.3 Structure and Theoretical Framework The thesis begins with defining the key concepts applied in order to ensure a uniform understanding of their meaning and use throughout the dissertation. Then, the current luxury market and consumer traits will be elaborated upon and challenges in relation to these will be elucidated in the section ‘The World of Luxury’, as these external circumstances obviously affect how luxury branding should be structured and created. Hereafter, the explicit focus on luxury brand identity communication through printed advertising and PR events is elaborated upon in the section ‘Communicating Luxury’.

The thesis is mainly founded on theory and research developed by luxury branding practitioners U.

Okonkwo, J.N. Kapferer, V. Bastien, M. Chevalier and G. Mazzalovo (for more information on these see Appendix 1), as it makes most sense to use industry specific experts since luxury communication and marketing differ from that of traditional goods (see section 3), which means that general marketing principles and assumptions are somewhat irrelevant. In addition to the above, supplementary scholars such as L. Hujic (2005), M. Tungate (2009), A. Brioschi (2006) and D. Pickton and A. Broderick (2005), are referred to when relevant.

In the analysis, the successful luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren will be studied.

Regarding events, Louis Vuitton’s Fall/Winter 2011-2012 fashion show and Ralph Lauren’s Spring/Summer 2011 fashion show will be analysed, as they are the ones promoted by the brands at the moment. Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren communicate about their events through the internet,

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and we consequently have to examine it through this channel. More specifically, two online videos will be analysed in which Ralph Lauren 1 in Ralph Lauren’s video – ‘Watch the Film’2 - and Marc Jacobs in Louis Vuitton’s video3 - ‘Watch the Show with Marc Jacobs’4 - elaborate upon the respective fashion shows5. The focus of the analysis will not be on the visuals of the videos but instead on the voiceover/conversation, which will be examined in a rhetorical analysis that will account for the use of Aristotle’s three appeals, and elucidate what facets of luxury brand communication (figure 2), and hereby what brand identity, Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren aim to communicate through their fashion shows.

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