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Recently, in the town of Skegness in England, there was uproar when Italian ‘premium’ beer brand Peroni was accused of snobbery for not allowing its product to be sold in a hotel in the town. The hotel’s manager claimed consultants working on behalf of the brand stated the town didn’t ‘fit the brand’, and implied there was a snobbery issue at heart.
This isn’t the first time that a brand has been accused of trying to dictate who its audience should be. An executive for Cristal champagne hinted that he did not approve of this endorsement of its premium product after it was embraced by Jay-Z and a number of other rappers. This resulted in the champagne being boycotted by the rapper, and no doubt many of his fans.
Luxury brands in particular are in a difficult position when balancing the necessity to make profits with the need to ensure their products are held in high regard and deemed desirable and exclusive. In the past luxury meant expensive, and only individuals from particular echelons of society could afford these products. Yet with changing social mobility, many different demographics can afford to invest in costly products. One company that suffered from unwanted celebrity endorsement was British fashion retailer Burberry, which saw its audience demographic change significantly when soap star Daniella Westbrook dressed her baby and herself head-to-toe in its famous check clothing, devaluing the brand almost instantly. So what can a brand do if its products are being embraced by an ‘unwanted’ audience? Here is my advice for public relations consultants faced with this conundrum:
- Accept that whilst marketing activity may be targeted specifically at a certain audience, for example, advertising only in luxury magazines, in many instances the brand has little control over who purchases its products.
- Never publically comment negatively on your brand’s audience. While a certain demographic may not be your ideal brand champions, there is no surer way to alienate an audience by offending them.
- Rethink your marketing strategies so that you feel you are communicating a personality that represents the brand. Perhaps invest in a celebrity ambassador that resonates with your audience, but ensure you undertake market research to establish who will appeal to your target market. Pursuing a new marketing channel you have not yet utilised could reach new audiences and a social media agency will be able to advise on how to communicate via Facebook, Twitter and G+ in a compelling, yet high-end manner.
- Protect your intellectual property. Very often, when a luxury brand becomes popular with a mainstream audience, copycat products will begin to enter the market, usually at a more affordable price point. Obtain legal advice immediately to ensure this does not happen, and that your brand is protected.
- Finally, look to the long term and put in place a strategy that will ensure your brand is where it should be in five years’ time. Burberry has invested significantly on getting its brand back on course, signing up a number of high profile individuals to represent its brand, including Kate Moss and Emma Watson. It is now back on track and recently reported an increase in revenue.
Victoria Harris is an account director at social media, SEO and PR agency, Punch Communications, with over ten years’ experience, primarily in media relations. Punch is a UK based PR, social media and SEO agency with the skill set, reach and client base of a global agency. To find out more about online PR and Punch please visit www.punchcomms.com.