What differentiates the Big Mac from the Mona Lisa?
Both are celebrities in their own right and photographed to no end, one a globalised and highly marketed product, the other a piece of art at the hand of a master, designed with emotion portraying human life on canvas. The only difference today is that one holds purchasing power and the other is simply a selfie backdrop.
Following Christie’s launch of Department X (its latest offering of luxury sneakers and streetwear), it has overtaken its sales of art internationally as UHNW (ultra high net worth) Gen-Zs place their sense of value on mass-produced, yet exclusive, items over antiques and craftsmanship.
In a necessary move from the institution auction house that has seen the slowing down of sales for classic items such as art, sculpture, antiques and even high-jewellery, Christie’s, like many others, is diversifying and attracting audiences in savvy ways. This is down to the new culture cache and shift of perception as to what is considered a desirable luxury asset.
If they can’t wear or be seen with it - in person or online - the younger wealthy generations largely aren’t interested.
Art still plays a fundamental role in their lives, as they seek to experience it in new ways, however, it will often be seen on a t-shirt via a collaboration by a well-known fashion conglomerate, rather than specifically hanging on the wall in their house, or safely stored in their art collection.
Luxury institutions, particularly fashion houses, have played on this narrative over the last few decades, positioning products as limited editions by recycling classic pieces of art and culture rather than inventing new ones. As a result, this new generation is icon and status-driven with a focus on material items, rather than traditional caches such as yachts, artwork and jewellery.
If it’s branded and hard to get a hold of, despite being a high street-founded brand, they will want it and subsequently value it as it feeds into the need to be seen and heard in today’s social media-driven society.
But how is this impacting brands and institutions today?
Unsurprisingly, many are having to diversify like Christie’s by making space for the items that UHNW Gen-Z want.
Classic car sales have taken a dip and the likes of Sotheby’s are having to think of new tactics to inspire Gen-Z to see value in these more traditional investments. One approach is localisation, positioning themselves readily in areas where they can expect organic footfall, but that isn’t enough. They need to provide highly engaging experiences to retain interest and incentivise investment.
One great example is Nike which has gone from an affordable mass-marketed brand transforming its identity to offering sought-after luxury items. Through culturally-driven collaborations and a comprehensive phydigital customer journey, Nike has been able to create a presence and offer engaging experiences for customers both in-store and online.
Physical brand marketing is a crucial tool for brands looking to remain competitive and retain customers through the creation of meaningful experiences.
We have seen a shift in how luxury brands are communicating with their clients. What was historically a very closed-off relationship has become a high-touch experience, with luxury brands investing in lots of staff to ensure a seamless experience from the moment they step into a store, to the clicking purchase online.
Whilst young UHNW individuals seek items that will give them a bigger sense of presence and demonstrate their spending power, brands can make up for in experiences. Selling them a bigger brand offering that then creates the need to invest in what that brand has to offer will subsequently tap into their values.
Retailers need to better understand Gen Z’s cultural cues.
Retail hubs should offer hospitality spaces to the next generation of consumers where they can behave fluidly, allowing them access to areas where they can come together both physically and virtually with their friends. They should offer this generation reasons and opportunities to linger in these spaces outside of the traditional retail environment, for example through dining experiences, spaces to co-work and areas to break away from work.
They expect a 360 experience, for example, Dior’s restaurant in Capri where they can holiday, shop and dine all in one spot, whilst being immersed in a brand.
This can easily be translated across a mix of industries, and perhaps this is the direction the art world will head. Maybe valuable artworks will no longer be sold at auction houses but rather in their own homes, in the form of its NFT to provide the level of access and sense of instantaneousness these individuals expect.
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