A JAY Z vs. CRISTAL CASE STUDY: THE FUTURE OF LUXURY BRANDS AND HOW THEY POSITION THEIR PRODUCTS
By Piaras Kelly
Jay Z, one of the world’s leading rap musicians, has called for a boycott on Cristal champagne after one of the company’s executives, when asked if the association between Cristal and the “bling lifestyle” could be detrimental, said “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.” Leading by example, Jay-Z has pulled the brand from his clubs and has vowed not to purchase Cristal due to what the rapper deems a racist attitude by the company.
In my opinion, Jay Z’s reaction is over the top, the executive’s attitude was not so much racist as confused as to how position Cristal. Exclusive brands are increasingly finding themselves at a crossroads between scarcity and accessibility. Mike Walsh’s article ‘The Cool Paradox‘ explains it best:
"The problem with demand is that it is rarely evenly distributed. The hottest club, the most desired pair of jeans, the coolest new restaurant – when consumer interest explodes it creates scarcity, which is like adding rocket fuel to an already raging fire. Economists have a word for this. Positional goods. Products and services whose value is derived from their scarcity.
… As terrible and elitest as that sounds, ignoring the economic nature of ‘cool’ goods has dire consequences. When the ‘impossible to get in’ nightclub starts an open door policy, and the world’s most daring denim brand starts a diffusion line for Walmart – their intrinsic value as a positional good starts to disappear. Accessibility is the enemy of scarcity."
Cristal’s problems are nothing new in the branding world. Fashion manufacturers like Burberry have been more affected and seen sales fall due to how common they are now perceived. The Wikipedia entry on Burberry gives a good synopsis:
"Once mainly the preserve of upper-middle class older women, the patronage of celebrities in the U.K. and U.S., including David and Victoria Beckham and hip-hop artists, gave it wider appeal. During the 1980s the brand became popular with the British football casual cult, leading to it to being associated with “chavs”, hooligans and members of football firms in the 2000s. The Burberry check baseball cap, a favourite of chavs, was discontinued by the company in 2004 to distance itself from the maligned group."
One of the key challenges facing any company trying to establish and maintain an exclusive brand was to develop and maintain a positional good. Now companies also have to cope with the concept of massclusivity.
"The more access consumers have to outstanding quality goods and services, the more they want exclusivity and status of a different order. The kind that visibly sets you apart from the masses and gives you access to privileges most others won’t get."
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