Glamour vs. Glitz: Do Luxury Brands Get it Right?
In Virginia Postrel’s recently published book, The Power of Glamour, she defines what separates glamour from glitz. Glamour (and luxury) "...embody the promise of a different and better self in different and better circumstances. Glamour stokes ambition and nurtures hope, even as it fosters sometimes dangerous illusions."
Smart, strategic taglines and website experiences are essential for any brand in any industry. But when you're selling the allure and fantasy of glamour, it is exponentially more important. So if you're promising Grace Kelly (Aston Martin), you'd better not deliver Miley Cyrus (Dolce & Gabbana).
Keeping Postel’s observations in mind, I explored several luxury brands to determine their brand promise. I also wanted to see if they satisfied what Postrel says is the timeless pang of desire that a luxury experience evokes: "If only I could (wear that watch, drive that car, own that house, etc.)."
What about me?
Patek Philippe is arguably the most exclusive watch in the world. The uber luxury brand’s tagline is, "Begin your own tradition." I like that. It speaks directly to me, and to my desire to be seen as a man with exquisite tastes.
Sadly, though, the Patek website experience makes me think more of Microsoft or General Motors than the watch maker for the wealthy.
It’s extremely formal, compartmentalized, and, dare I say, stiff (boring). The site provides me with tabs describing the company’s communications activities, their various collections around the world, corporate values, etc. There’s even a huge clock on the home page that counts down the exact time until Patek Philippe celebrates its 175th anniversary (It was 171 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes and 28 seconds when I checked).
Wait a minute! What about me? Patek Philippe promised to help me begin my own tradition. Somehow, that watch stopped ticking. Or maybe it was never wound properly in the first place.
"The name’s Cody. Steve Cody."
When I dream about glamorous automobiles, my mind’s eye immediately eases me behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. That’s because I grew up adoring all things Bond. James Bond. And the Aston Martin has been Agent 007’s car of choice since the classic movie Goldfinger.
Here's Aston Martin’s tagline: "Power. Beauty. Soul." Now, there’s an aspirational slogan that nails Postrel’s If Only dream. Who doesn’t aspire to possess more power, beauty, and soul? I’ll bet even Ray Charles and Billie Holiday did.
I’m happy to report the Aston Martin website experience delivers everything the car itself does (and more). It’s sleek, stylish, and, to quote another Postrel definition of glamour, "mysterious."
Unlike the Patel and other luxury brand websites I visited, Aston Martin sells the sizzle, not the steak. There are breathtaking photographs cued up on a home page carousel that invite the visitor to imagine himself in the car itself.
I actually felt more powerful, beautiful (handsome?), and soulful after visiting the Aston Martin site. Critically, I thought "If Only…"
It's no longer the one.
Dolce & Gabanna suffers from what I call the BP Syndrome. Prior to the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster, the company’s tagline was "Beyond petroleum." After the spill, and the company’s ham-handed crisis management, comedians and pundits began developing variations on the tagline, such as "Beyond pathetic."
I felt the same way when I spied Dolce & Gabanna’s tagline: "The one."
Love him or hate him, Barack Obama is The One. And right now, The One’s popularity is at an all-time low. So my first, visceral feeling about D&G was negative. And then it got worse.
Dolce & Gabanna's website reminds me more of a flea market than a chic, high-end, one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a sensory overload of products, places, and things. To make matters worse, "The One" turns out to be an infomercial directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson. I have no idea what "The One" is about until the very end of the clip when Johansson refers to it as the D&G cologne she’s been wearing. Oh.
The one rates a one on the "If Only" 1-to-10 scale of glamour and luxury.
It's the Rolex of refrigerators, but...
I’m not a kitchen kind of guy, but I know enough about the category to recognize Thermador’s place as the Rolex of refrigerators. Sure, Viking is superb. But Thermador is the cat’s meow (a Depression-era expression the hoi polloi used to describe their If Only desires).
Unfortunately, the Thermador experience is more like a dog’s breakfast than the cat’s meow.
To begin with, the company never delivers on its tagline, "Real innovations for real cooks." There’s plenty of information about stoves, refrigerators, and every other Thermador product. But where’s the real innovation? I see links to various stores such as Sur la Table and lots of recipe collections, but there’s no aha moment where I feel like I've learned something new.
I’m not a real (or faux) cook. But to paraphrase Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, I know innovation when I see it. And Thermador’s website is sadly lacking.
To borrow one last Postrel quote, Aston Martin "….taps into our most secret dreams and deepest yearnings to influence our everyday choices." As for Thermador? Well, let’s just say the thrill is gone.
Special thanks to my fabulous research associate, Dandy Stevenson.
STEVE CODY | Columnist
I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. email@example.com