CreativeReview

Is Apple Watch a luxury brand?

Apple Watch

The launch of the Apple Watch has been widely trailed as confirmation that Apple is now a luxury brand. But true luxury goods are about more than price and materials. The Kantar Group (WPP’s market research arm) identified seven criteria that define luxury brands: how many does the Apple Watch fulfil?

1. Uniqueness:

Luxury items are irreplaceable, produced in small quantities and handcrafted. They can only be made in a specific place or country intrinsically linked to the brand. They have exclusive distribution.

Apple’s business model is based not on irreplaceability but its opposite – a continuous cycle of upgrades as new, improved models come out. Will that continue with a device that costs up to £9,500?

It’s not handmade and Apple don’t do small quantities. Neither are its products assembled in the US but Apple has an interesting take on this with its use of the declaration ‘designed in California’ on each product. Apple prioritises design above assembly, whereas many luxury experts would contend that the craft and making of luxury goods are inextricably linked to the brand and cannot be relocated to parts of the world where labour is cheaper.

2. Timelessness:

Products that will last, that will never go out of fashion and will be passed on to the next generation.

Again, this is definitely not part of Apple’s model – good luck passing on that original, 1998 iMac to your kids. As with the majority of tech products, Apple devices have obsolescence built in.

3. Excellence:

Luxury goods will be made by skilled artisans and the finest fabrics and fabrication will be used. The best customer service will apply.

Does Apple have the best customer service? Its stores were certainly an upgrade on our prior experience in the sector but ‘better than other tech brands’ is possibly a more accurate description than ‘as good as the best luxury brands’. It’s equally hard to picture Foxconn’s Chinese employees as ‘skilled artisans’ but the materials and fabrication processes used on the Apple Watch (as with all Apple products) can credibly be seen as the finest in the sector.

4. Iconic Communication:

A very sophisticated and codified visual universe built on dreams, desires and fantasies.

Yes to that as far as Apple’s advertising and marketing is concerned. The degree to which Apple’s brand values trump the equivalent or superior functionality of its competitors infuriates its detractors.

5. Sensual Aesthetic: 

Refined aesthetic that conveys sensuality, indulgence with a hint of extravagance and it appeals to the five senses.

Apple’s understanding of the sensual appeal of materials has been comfortably ahead of its competitors and very much in line with that of luxury brands. From tungsten laptops, to the ForceTouch responsive trackpads of the new MacBook Pros and the ‘goldier’ gold of the alloys in the Watch, Apple has brought sensuality to tech like no-one else.

6. Brand Soul:

Builds its identity around a creator, the history of the house, and has its roots in history.

From Steve Jobs to Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s cult of the creator and its history as a ‘house’ is very much in line with that of great luxury brands such as Ferrari.

7. Innovation:

Brands that dare to push boundaries and surprise. They stay faithful to their roots, but modernise and adapt style to present time to express coolness.

No arguments there: Apple is a master at this, reinventing itself in music, telecoms and now wearables.

In this somewhat traditional definition of luxury Apple fails on the Uniqueness and Timelessness criteria and it’s a mixed picture on Excellence, but on Communication, Soul, Sensuality and Innovation the Apple Watch is on a par with the best that Paris’s Rue Faubourg St Honoré has to offer. The intriguing question is whether the criteria in which Apple leads now represent the most important ones and, if so, whether Apple is leading a new definition of luxury rather than following a traditional model.

Source: Mark Whiting, Director Added Value Paris, for Added Value’s blog, Source, Added Value Group is part of Kantar Group, see bit.ly/1O6aNPp