New Norms: What crises and digitization mean for luxury brands

Sustainability, metaverse and web 3.0 determine the reinvention of the luxury industry - Simon Owen on trend-setting synergies

Interview Simon Owen, Partner & CEO of Anomaly Berlin

anomaly rimowa cover
Source & Copyright by Anomaly Berlin

Source and Copyright by Anomaly Berlin

Author: House of Eden

Luxury brands are in a state of upheaval. Traditional communication and business models are proving to be less and less effective - outdated. And that's because they were previously based exclusively on a conservative notion based on excess and exclusive barriers. Today, both target group and values have changed: Generation Z and sustainability are defining the luxury market of the future. But crises and advancing digitalization are also determining the development of the market. So what the luxury industry needs are new solutions as well as innovative marketing that respond to changing consumer needs and, in general, to a new zeitgeist.

The New Model Agency "Anomaly" is a response to this awareness. The creative agency has realized that nowadays it literally takes an anomaly - a deviation from the norm - to be successful. This concept has allowed it to position itself as an industry leader, working with the world's biggest luxury brands and adding iconic collaborations with the likes of Rihanna and the late Virgil Abloh to its portfolio. In our interview, CEO of Anomaly Berlin, Simon Owen, talks about high-end brands and resilience in times of crisis, needs of Gen Z, sustainability and the synergy between luxury and the Web 3.0.

simon owen anomaly

Source & Copyright by Anomaly Berlin

Why exactly do people desire luxury products?

I always find this to be a subjective question. Of course there are certain age-old patterns of desire, exclusivity, uniqueness or status. But in today’s world there are many more reasons for desiring luxury than ever before. Some seek out badge value. Some seek out exquisite craftsmanship.. Some seek out the things that endure. Some seek out association. Some seek out a compelling story of origin and craft. Some seek out social approval. Some seek out the highest quality of design, innovation and materials. Some seek out bragging rights. What’s clear to me is that the reasons people desire luxury are neither simple nor straightforward. The drivers in and of themselves are fascinating.

We’ve been in challenging times for years now, to what extent did recent crises change society’s definition of luxury?

Many things endured. But some critical - and arguably highly important ones - became more pronounced. Of these, I think one of the most fascinating is the rise of “selfish spending” or “revenge spending”.

Pandemics, wars, crises, the brink of global recession, have in many ways moved luxury from a splurge investment to a “critical” thing to make people feel good again. And who can blame people? After restrictions, lockdowns, inflation and the rest, elements of luxury - whether more affordable and accessible (everyday) luxury or more excessive luxury - have become a thing that can make people feel in control and also in some ways, “rewarded” for tolerating it all.

Many have also written about the way in which the enduring nature of luxury brands can act as an “anchor” or as a source of comfort in times of emotional turmoil. I buy into that. Of course, self-indulgent spending is nothing new. But the volume and scale of it is something that feels like it has changed the view of what luxury means to people.

Why did the sales market of luxury goods only shrink slightly in times of crisis and how did luxury brands adapt their messaging?

I think there’s some obvious factors here, such as the fact that the luxury industry is often more impervious to crises and economic challenges than others, due to the fact that those of higher means generally don’t get impacted as those in other sectors of society. But there’s also likely a number of other things going on. “Revenge spending”, as mentioned above, could be one of them. Where people actually felt the need to treat themselves more than ever.

Another interesting reason is that the luxury industry has been forced to reinvent itself massively in the past few years, arguably years overdue. Some of this just happens to align with the times of crisis, but most has been spurred as a direct result. The way in which classic luxury brands such as Rimowa, Tiffany, Balenciaga and Gucci are challenging themselves to reinvent is coming to life way beyond their “messaging”. It’s challenging the ways in which they communicate and the ways in which they sell.

anomaly rimova

Source & Copyright by Anomaly Berlin

Whether Burberry’s foray into true digital, social, Web XNUMX and social commerce or the Gucci President and CEO’s statement that “Gucci is always looking to embrace new technologies when they can provide an enhanced experience for our customers” proves that luxury has adapted with the times strongly, in order to minimise the impact of the numerous crises that we have - and will - face. This has all undoubtedly contributed to “closing the gap”.

The following generations attach great importance to sustainability and ecological justice. What advantage do luxury brands have in responding to these needs?

This is something that we’ve worked a lot with our premium and luxury clients on. One of the huge advantages that luxury brands have is sheer visibility and influence. You just have to look at the likes of Moncler's commitment to be fur free by 2024 to know that the impact of a move like that carries enormous weight in popular culture.

But another significant thing that we often find ourselves talking about is longevity and investment. The huge movement against fast fashion (and all of the ills that go with that) leads directly into some of the most critical reasons for buying luxury; how the quality of materials and craftsmanship ensure that the purchase, whilst expensive at the time, is one made for the long term. Rimowa’s lifetime guarantee for their products (which in turn reduces the need to buy a new suitcase every few years, thus wasting the materials that go with that) or the enduring claim of Patek Philippe that “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation” speak to this.

What role do web 3.0 and the metaverse play in the reinvention of the luxury industry? What new possibilities arise?

A good starting point is the acknowledgement that luxury has been doing pretty well in Web 2.0. More personal data motivated creativity and moved businesses forward hugely. But Web 3.0 is massive, radical and highly complex. And to be honest, still only lightly understood. No one has all (or even many of) the answers yet. But from the work we have been doing at Anomaly, we see that web 3.0 represents a massive opportunity for luxury to rediscover and re-express its meaning for a new generation.

Web 3 at its core means decentralisation - doing away with gatekeepers and returning the keys of the internet to individuals. And while decentralisation is historically less central to the luxury agenda (who have sought to create barriers and to centralise things around individuals like creative directors and collection designers), elevating individual experience, challenging norms and encouraging creativity are things that Web 3 and luxury have in common.

anomaly rimova 1-2

Source & Copyright by Anomaly Berlin

“Web 3 and luxury could spawn a number of incredible, leading edge things, such as: 1) Sustainability - deepening the industry's sense of connection and responsibility to all its stakeholders, which the Blockchain’s traceability by design function allows for.”

2) Artification - a great term coined by JN Kapferer but arguably even more relevant for Web 3, which can provide the platform for emphasising and enabling all expressions of self and creativity); 3) Substance - enriching the essentials that have always made the luxury experience special, across all parallel dimensions in multiple dimensions. Whatever truly comes of Web 3, it’s going to be fun to watch!

How do you convey authentic and impactful messages on social media to reach the new luxury audience (Gen Z & Y) without getting lost in the mass of banal and consumerist content?

For me this is where luxury really comes into its own. Because luxury has always been about making highly impactful and culture shaping statements. Social media just gives that a massive mouthpiece. And with Gen Z set to make up 60% of luxury consumers by 2026 (at least according to BCG), it can’t be ignored.

It’s easy to get lost in social media, if you’re unoriginally contributing to the chatter. But if you’re making a real statement, if you’re being original, if you’re saying something that not only resonates but also inspires (after all the magic of luxury endures); this is when you make sure you don’t get lost. Whether that’s the impact of a Balenciaga runway show or of a Moncler XNUMXth Anniversary spectacular; making huge cultural statements (in the multitude of ways that statements can be made) makes the difference.

Which international cultural trends are leading and will determine the future?

There are multiple fascinating trends, all of which may or may not endure and become truly impactful on the luxury market. And if I knew which are certain to determine the future I’d be a very rich man. But there’s one that persists, which I think could be here to stay.

Pre-owned (or more accurately for luxury, “"pre loved"”) is a trend that’s been picking up speed for some time now, fuelled by Gen Z outlook, by the sustainability movement and by the rise and prominence of the circular economy. Just look at the rise of platforms like Depop, which went from founding to a $1.6bn sale in just 10 years, coming with a user base of over 21m people, 90% of which are Gen Z. More recently major fashion ecommerce platforms such as Zalando have also embraced this. This provides an incredibly interesting dynamic for luxury brands, where it’s no longer just the domain of pre-owned watches, but becoming more and more the norm across multiple verticals.

Thank you for the interview, Simon.

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