The First Rule of Fight Club
Dress: JC Penney
Cardigan and Tights: Target
Belt: NY & Co.
Pumps: Alfani Step ‘n Flex
Like the outfit? Click here for more details!
Today’s post is a bit of a marketing rabbit hole on branding, and I’m going to throw around some academic jargon. It’ll be a fun walk down memory lane undergraduate classes! In all seriousness, though, I wonder about the differences between clothing makers that put their label all over their products vs. retailers that let the product stand on its own. So, let’s go for a dive, shall we?
Awareness for the masses vs. “the club”. In theory, all publicity is good publicity, right? So, plastering a recognizable logo on every available surface of your product should raise awareness, resulting in more sales. The problem is, some brands sell exclusivity. If you want to be part of the super secret club, you buy this brand. So, what happens when you see tons of other people walking around advertising the super secret club? It makes it less secret, and therefore, less appealing to join, since apparently, it’s open to the masses. When people buy access to “the club”, they don’t want to be reminded that someone who’s not just like them can also buy access to “the club”. This is particularly true for high-end brands, like one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories. It can’t be one-of-a-kind if you see someone else walking around with the same thing! Thus, making your product particularly recognizable by the masses may actually be harmful to your brand. If you’re selling exclusivity, you don’t want the masses to know about your brand (the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club!). Only those with the highest salaries, most refined taste, or most trendy wardrobes belong in your target market, and if they’re truly “in”, they’ll know your product without the visible logo.
Aspirational brand devaluation. This is closely tied with the decision to sell exclusivity. An aspirational product is something that symbolizes the group you want to join, and when you finally obtain the product, you’ve “arrived” (like all the facial bruises that identify other Fight Club members!). High-end clothing and accessories are often marks of career success, so many young people see purchasing their first Armani suit or Blahnik heels as a signal that they’ve now joined the successful peer group. But again, no one aspires to be just like everyone else. This may seem counter-intuitive, since this product purchase means that you’re now a member of the most desirable group, so the other members will accept you. But, if you have to run around screaming to everyone that you’re one of the cool kids, you’re probably not that cool in reality. Label junkies tend to seem like they’re just posing as a member of the group, which means the product becomes associated with “fake” members. Soon, the product falls from aspirational status to cheap imitation status in the eyes of customers who dictate which products are aspirational.
Imitation is easy. Congrats, you’ve built a successful brand with a recognizable logo or signature design! Now everyone knows that when they see that logo, they’re getting quality, reliability, luxury, and great customer service… except it’s easy to slap a logo on a fake. And, those fakes on the market that proudly display your hard-earned reputation via the logo are further contributing to the brand devaluation. It’s much more difficult to imitate quality stitching, luxurious fabric, real leather, or precise time-keeping, which is why many high-end brands would rather let their discerning customers “recognize” the brand through personal experience with each item. Take the case of Louboutin’s attempt to trademark the red color they use for their signature soles. Several other shoe manufacturers started using red soles in their designs of lesser quality, which Louboutin felt impacted the integrity of their brand. Since it’s widely known that red soles = Louboutin, it’s difficult for the average consumer to tell the difference between the knock-offs and the original. If customers were required to learn the differences in the brands through experience, Louboutin would not be so upset about the use of the color red. And, if you’re selling exclusivity, your customers will be happy (in fact, they’ll prefer) to spend the extra time feeling, using, and understanding what makes your products different from another brand.
So, now we’ve come to the marketer’s dilemma: to logo or not to logo? This issue is much more easily settled when you have a defined target segment (who you’re selling to), a strong brand identity (what it is you’re selling), and a thorough understanding of what your customers value (why your customers choose you over the next guy). I’m not in the super secret club in the fashion world, but I do understand the first rule of fight club Like the outfit? Click here for more details!