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OMD Sense. Why today is a new era for 'Status'

OMD Sense. Why today is a new era for 'Status'

“We may seek a fortune for no greater reason than to secure the respect and attention of people who would otherwise look straight through us” Alain de Botton, writer and entrepreneur.

Our dependence on the wider esteem of society to feel good about ourselves is not something we like to admit but it does influence the way we behave, especially as a consumer.  We crave signs of status in the modern Western world but how do we actually attain it?  

Some 30 years ago, a top of the range Mercedes and a Rolex watch would probably be enough to communicate your superior status in society.  Status back then was generally linked to your ability to consume the finer things in life in comparison with everyone else.

And because the finer things in life were expensive enough to be accessible to a few or infrequently to many, status was generally acquired through the purchase and display of established material objects.  

That’s not to say that status was entirely confined to straightforward materialism.  There has always been an element of experience as well, such as expensive holidays, staying at five star hotels and eating out at top notch restaurants.

‘Enrichment’ goods were worth £57 billion more than material goods in 2005 and that gap is estimated to grow at an impressive pace in the next 10 years [1].  Whereas before, status was mainly linked to the consumption of luxury products and services, nowadays consumers look for other, more varied means to gain respect from their peers.  

So why is status changing?  The democratisation of luxury, created by the diffusion of luxury brands into more accessible and affordable lines in the 80s[2] meant even the masses could tap into ‘luxury’ status symbols.

This eroded the value of these traditional cues as more and more people could access them.  Couple this with the fact people are more reluctant to display their wealth during the recession and you can see why consumers are finding other ways to make their mark.

Instead of exclusively being about showing off financial wealth, today’s consumers crave experiences which set them apart from the crowd.  They want experiences which create good stories to tell which in turn generate envy and respect from their peers.

Queensland Tourism Board understood this perfectly when crafting their award winning ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign.  Not only did it prompt an unprecedented number of applications from all over the world for the coveted job, the story generated enormous amounts of PR, multiplying the effectiveness of the campaign.

To top off the inspired ad campaign, the successful applicant now shares his amazing story and ‘work’ with the rest of the world through a dedicated blog encouraging others to experience the paradise themselves.

In essence, the real status fix delivered by the experiences sought by consumers are the stories stemming from those experiences.  The trip around the world/ticket to Glastonbury is all the more fulfilling when you also get the gratification of telling everyone about them.  Social networking makes it even easier to communicate your latest coup through status updates and photo sharing, making experiences even more appealing.

The social network phenomenon is not only useful for communicating and spreading stories to those you want to impress, it is another dimension of social status that barely existed five years ago.  Number of friends and followers are important indicators of popularity these days; it’s no wonder that even celebrities twitter.

A further aspect of modern day status is the growing desire to acquire or pursue everyday skills, also an output of the recent recessionary mindset - in July last year, around one in five people said they wanted to improve their knowledge in the next 12 months[3].   

Exemplified by success stories such as Lauren Luke’s make up tips on YouTube, skills give you a reason to share stories and flaunt your status.  Brands such as Nike and Kraft, are also beginning to tap into this with their Nike+ and iFood applications, both satisfying the consumers’ appetite for making the most of existing skills and learning new ones.  

It would be wrong to assume that material objects no longer bestow status upon consumers, although these have also evolved to include brands and products not traditionally deemed to be ‘luxury’.  Take the Toyota Pruis, not the most prestigious of cars, but those who own one, relish and bask in the environmentally friendly credentials it gives them.  It’s quite a statement when even Julia Roberts, Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt own one.  

However, there is still very much a place for established luxury brands, especially in emerging economies, where the growing middle classes look to time-honoured status symbols.  As we move towards a post recessionary landscape, there are signs already that the global luxury market is bouncing back [4].

The ostentatious display of wealth is slightly more acceptable now, or as Claudia D’Arpizio[5] says, “the end of luxury shame for local consumers in mature markets means luxury brands are gaining appeal again.”  

Nonetheless, in the UK, consumers are seeking alternative and additional ways to assert their status.  This has opened up a host of opportunities to brands, wishing to tap into this.
And how to make your brand desirable through its status enhancing properties?  Well, perhaps by giving them an experience which generates a story worth telling, helping them develop or learn new skills, boosting their green credentials and making it easy to share all of this on social media.


1. NVision 2010
2. Taken from Sense piece ‘Reinventing Luxury’
3. Source:  SOTN Taking a Reflective View of the Recession July 2009
4. Luxury brands are set to enjoy an increase in sales in 2010 according to a forecast from Bain & Co.  Warc April 2010
5. Chief luxury analyst at Bain & Co

Ben Haley
Insight Manager OMD
Mobile: +44 (0)7798 630564

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