Thought Leadership

June 25, 2009

Salmon Upstream? Talking Luxury in the Recession

Anne Green

In case you’ve not heard, we’re in a bit of a down economy. Ok, clearly I jest, because this is one truism that’s been beaten to death for a good seven months now. In fact, if you haven’t either heard or personally uttered some variation on the phrase “In these challenging times…” at least once a day since the start of 2009, you’ve been living in an alternate reality.


This economic context has impacted nearly every conversation with every type of media person – whether you’re speaking with a member of the ‘mainstream’ press or an individual blogger. So what happens when the conversation you’re having is about luxury? Now that’s an interesting question. And here at CooperKatz, we’ve found the answer to be surprisingly diverse.


Clearly the luxury market continues, boom times or bust. The relative definition and accessibility of ‘luxury’ as both concept and reality may shift. But luxury itself remains.


However, media attitudes toward talking about luxury are more changeable. Recent outreach by CooperKatz teams in this space has unearthed a host of different reactions – both across mainstream and social media ‘outlets.’


One reporter at a huge consumer daily said she felt it was ‘offensive’ (her exact word) to even broach the subject of luxury in the midst of the downturn. This hyper-sensitivity to tone and appropriateness reminded me of the significantly more somber times following 9/11.


Another reporter at a top national outlet seemed eager to find a macro-level silver lining (i.e., does the fact that a company is out there with a luxury market message mean that the economy is really starting to turn around?).


Still others had the reaction our teams had anticipated – which is to find the whole luxury discussion counter-intuitive to the times, and therefore intriguing.


And still others simply shut it down, saying there’s no room in today’s environment for stories at the richest end of the consumer market.


As human beings, we can all be pretty myopic. Whatever moment we’re in today can seem like the new forever-reality.


That’s why some of the more thoughtful reactions that our teams received to the luxury dialogue were from those who recognized that this recession isn’t forever. (It isn’t, right?)


Many consumers today may not be able (or simply willing) to invest at the high end. But this doesn’t mean they’re not still dreaming. And when things begin to loosen up, both financially and psychologically, that high end will (yet again) be the focus of a whole lot of attention – and wallets.


(Image Source: © Joe Sachs/Corbis)

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