[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 23-Jul-2010
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Contact: Amy Blumenthal
amyblume@marshall.usc.edu
213-740-5552
University of Southern California

When the quiet logo speaks volumes

USC Marshall School of Business study finds less truly is more in luxury brands

The logo on your designer handbag or sports car may say far more about your social status and social aspirations than the brand name itself, according to a new study from the USC Marshall School of Business, which finds that luxury brands charge more for "quieter" items with subtle logo placement and discreet appeal.

"Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence," a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Marketing and co-authored by USC Marshall School of Business doctoral student Young Jee Han and Joseph Nunes, associate professor of marketing at USC Marshall; with Xavier Dreze, associate professor of marketing at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, points to consumers who may not realize that shrieking designer logos actually reflect a lower price point than more subtle counterparts. Were our mothers right? Is less actually more?

According to Nunes, "A significant segment of the population does not want to be branded, preferring to be understated … and is willing to pay a premium to have 'quiet' goods without a brand mark."

For the study, authors examined three categories of luxury goods -- designer handbags, high-end vehicles and men's shoes -- with field experiments to survey consumers in a selection of Southern California shopping malls chosen for their demographics. These surveys were employed alongside an analysis of market data (including counterfeit goods) to reach the authors' conclusions on status signaling.

The study identified four luxury-good consumer species, according to their preference for "loud" goods with prominently placed brand logos versus "quiet" goods, perhaps the little black dress equivalent of subtle status:

FINDINGS

The study's key findings include:

For consumers, the study's authors note the following irony: "While many parvenus believe they are saying to the world that they are not have-nots, in reality, they may also be signaling to the patricians, the group they want to associate with, that they are not one of them."

IMPLICATIONS FOR MARKETERS

Based on their research, the authors recommend the following to managers in the luxury-good category:

  1. Develop a set of special signatures, or subtle cues, to distinguish the brand. For example, the authors cite Gucci's use of bamboo on its products that says "Gucci" without employing a logo. Patricians recognize the signal, while non-patricians do not.
  2. Don't make a brand ubiquitous. A luxury-goods manufacturer should "resist the urge to popularize its trademark. If too many people sport the brand's logo, the mark loses its value." Bottega Veneta is an example at one extreme, the authors say, with the logo appearing only on the inside of its products.
  3. Consider advertising to all consumers, not just the target market. For brands that appeal to everybody, the message must be aspirational not functional.
  4. Reassess the "pyramid" approach to luxury. Appealing to the crème de la crème to also lure less-sophisticated consumers doesn't always work.

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To download the full study, visit: http://www.marshall.usc.edu/assets/125/21653.pdf



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