Philip Slade

In a galaxy far, far, away

What seems like ages ago was in fact only 2013, but these three chancers thought they could start a new agency, didn't work out as they planned, but start up culture is like that. You live and learn. Never hold back, always forward. Take every chance, however bonkers it appears. Die happy in the knowledge you had a crack at just about everything on offer.

John Diss, Philip Slade, Ben Stobart

Status Hunting

It’s almost 120 years since economist Thorstein Veblen wrote about the leisure class and in doing so gave the world the phrase; conspicuous consumption[1]. Constant online access, mobile devices and the pervasiveness of social media have now established a new normal in the display of wealth.

Euromoniter reported[2] conspicuous consumption of luxury goods was giving way to more meaningful luxury experiences. They went on to coin the truly bizarre phrase ‘Phygital’ to describe the merging of digital and real world consumption experiences.

This is part of the extensive trend ‘Deconstructed Luxury’. It’s effects in the travel industry has been profound, not only the rise of digital champions like Airbnb Trips and UberLUX. But in real world luxury resorts where the emphasis is now on experiences rather than the fixtures and fittings. For instance the launch of the new Mexican boutique resort La Zebra Beach Hotel[3]  is all about its pop-up collaboration with Copenhagen’s iconic restaurant NOMA.  The owners well aware of the photogenic nature of the dishes. Clearly today’s symbols of status, as Veblen would have it, do indeed need to be Instagramable to exist.

Nowhere is this more true than in Asia, for instance in Vietnam where a fast growing middle class consider symbols of success to be realised on social media, in the form of images of eating out or taking vacations.

Similarly in China after President Xi Jinping’s corruption crack down. Overt displays of wealth have been replaced with an emphasis on a subtler form of expression, especially travel. Plus Mossack Fonesca the company at the center of the Panama Papers scandal was found to have more offices in China than any other country. Clearly the spoils of the China’s growth have been moving off shore rather than exclusively into the boutiques of Guangzhou.

The residents of Hong Kong have often been sighted as some of the most conspicuous consumers in the world, a recent research paper[4] looked at the spending habits of the large numbers of Hong Kong migrants settling in Canada. The authors set out to see whether these people’s previous unique consumer behaviour would be transplanted to a new home. The report makes clear there is no evidence to suggest conspicuous consumption is related to a person’s ethnicity, rather it is a context of environment.

To prove the point Hong Kong’s recent wave of eager shoppers from mainland China’s second tier cities have vexed the locals[5] Their behaviour conspicuous consumption has driven a new trend amongst the residents[6] for under stated luxury.

China Daily recently ‘Valentine’s Day means celebration, not conspicuous consumption’ The paper highlighted the influence of American brands encouraging young affluent Chinese to spend more than 2,000 yuan (£232) on each other in 2016. The paper concluded that a festival established solely on business logic was not a problem of the holiday itself but of the people who celebrated it…

Last year, Ubers Head of Economic Research Jonathan Hall and a group of academics published a report[7] ‘Inconspicuous Conspicuous Consumption’ in which they argued that people were engaging in subtly conspicuous consumption to simultaneously signal wealth and social capital. The report looks in detail including some epic algorithmic equations to prove that subtly branded status goods will be costlier than their loudly branded equivalents. They placed emphasis on the effect your consumption signals on your online standing.

The important lesson for brands is the context of conspicuous display, its now less about proving wealth more the need to display a lifestyle. Social media, while clearly not covered by Thorstein Veblen 1899 writings, does in fact follow his socio-economic analyses of the leisure classes very well.

[1] Noun; Expenditure on or consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one's prestige.

[2] Euromoniter International ‘The Luxury Goods Trends Report’ 2017


[4] When conspicuous consumption becomes inconspicuous: the case of the migrant Hong Kong consumers - Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 18 Iss: 6, pp.474 - 487

[5] Residents' Perceptions Toward the “Chinese Tourists' Wave” in Hong Kong: Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research



Authenticity Redux

Has the commercialisation of hipster culture and the proliferation of dubiously labelled ‘artisan’ products had a knock on effect of devaluing the attempts of established brands to use years earnt authentic[1] claims?

Artisan, bespoke, boutique and authentic are much used advertising words right now. What was once an outlier description technique is now considered mainstream. For many legacy brands this is now presenting a marketing problem. How do you promote a brand with decades long earned authentic creds when every brand in your category is using the same lexicon?

We think it’s as much about what you say about what you make as what you say about who you are. In other words, we believe it’s as important to promote your companies purpose as it is to talk about the features of a product.

63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic[2]


9 out of 10 consumers are willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity[3]


73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions[4]

The good thing for those of us creating advertising messaging is an engaged consumer in 2017 is primed to hear a good story. We are seeing people swing away from what Chris Anderson/Wired Magazine[5] in 2005 called the ‘shorter, faster, smaller’ Information Revolution into what The Reuters Institute[6] amongst others have highlighted this year as the trend for long form content. Seen in the form of podcasts, real world and online in-depth investigations and documentaries in the cinema.

We have recently been working with Nyetimber, sparkling wine producers based in Sussex. It was clear from our very first meetings that the organisation had a very precise way of going about things. It became obvious to us that the reason their wines won so many plaudits was every single aspect of their business was focused on an incredible attention to detail. This wasn’t about following a categories tradition but striving for the very best come what may. Cherie Spriggs the head winemaker has been given the freedom and resources to create extraordinary wines, for instance proof points extended way beyond the product right down to the specification of the door hinges used in the winery. These are great engaging product tales driven by a clear brand purpose.

This is also mirrored in the growing appetite for nonfiction, with data from Nielsen BookScan[7] revealing that adult nonfiction made the biggest gains among the major print categories in the US last year.

A brands authentic story is no longer reserved just for a glossy 5 minute feel good film at the shareholders meeting. Rather consumers are seeking daily reminders, especially contextual to their own lives of how a brand behaves. Interestingly the definition of ‘authentic’ has shifted from ‘social’ and ‘environmental’ responsibility in 2014 to ‘high quality’ and ‘delivering on promises’[8] in 2017.

So now more than ever it’s really important to move beyond generic claims of artisan endevours and exposure the truth of a brands purpose and drive.

We see a number of trends coming together that will enable brands with a true story and great product to be able to create engaging, profitable narratives.

Long form[9]. Well crafted, superbly executed content[10]


Fragmentation[11]. Personalised, contextual, niche targeting[12]


Transparency[13]. The advantage of clarity and delivery of brand promise[14]



[1] adjective ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine’.

[2] Cohn & Wolfe ‘Authentic Brands’ global study 2016


[4] “Engagement with a Purpose – the Power of B Corporations” 2015 BBMG /

[5] ‘Small is the new Big’

[6] Reuters Institute/Nic Newman; Journalism, Media predictions 2017

[7] Adult nonfiction stayed hot in 2016', Publishers Weekly (January 2017)

[8] Cohn & Wolfe ‘Authentic Brands’  2016 analysis by Paul Holmes for The Holmes Report

[9] Canvas8 : From branded magazines to Netflix binge culture, the joy of immersive content. 2017.

[10] 'Why brand storytelling should be the foundation of a growth strategy', Marketing Week (February 2016)

[11] Fragmentation versus convergence. Nielsen Media Trends 2016

[12] Marketing

[13]  Emerging trends. Empathetic Brands 2017

[14] Fuzzy Promises. Definitions of brand promise. Thomas Boysen Anker, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. 2014

Deconstructed Luxury

‘The new done thing, is there is no done thing’
— Sommelier, London 5* Hotel.

The one thing that is certain in the new world of luxury is uncertainty. There has been much comment recently on how the traditions of luxury have been deconstructed leading to the need for a fresh approach to marketing to high net worth individuals (HNWI). We have pretty firm views on this subject. For the last 4 years our agency Keko London has exclusively focused on marketing to, and influencing, the behaviours of wealthy consumers.

Traditional luxury is a decreasing segment, not just because many of the individuals are dying but both in the US and Europe millennial attitudes have changed views from ownership to experiencing the trappings of wealth. We are also seeing economic power shifting to new economies, with new values. We are also seeing the decrease in the extrovert luxury segment. A number of factors are at play here from the effects of the post 1990’s recessional behaviours, maturing of previously emerging economies and the changing nature of displays of wealth, not least social media fueled corruption crack downs. The luxury watch market in china was a particular noted victim of online social shaming.

This has all lead to the rise of what we call ‘Modern Luxury’ a progressive, internationalist segment, a mixture of old and new money, but one that is well aware of the transparency and accountability that social media has made the new normal. These are sophisticated consumers with an unconventional approach to the traditions of luxury. It is this group who embrace the new world of ‘Deconstructed Luxury’

Johnathan Hall, Head of Economic Research at Uber co-authored a report last year looking at

‘Inconspicuous conspicuous consumption’ in which the new wealthy are engaging in conspicuous consumption to simultaneously signal wealth and social capital.

In early 2017 Euromoniter picked up on this theme in their ‘Luxury Trends Report’ saying ‘Conspicuous consumption of luxury goods is giving way to more meaningful luxury experiences. The merging of digital and real world consumption experiences.’

Today’s HNWI shopper seeks goods and experiences that project positive statements about who they are and who they desire to be. Consumer- centricity is more important than ever, as the consumer’s own brand is just as crucial as the brands those consumers buy and wear.

Multi device use for even the simplest of actions mean the idea of a luxury brand just focusing on one channel in the way luxury watches or jewellery used to own press have long gone. But having an integrated social strategy is only really a hygiene factor. The role of social influencers is now a primary factor amongst individuals who prioritise personal time and cultivated protected, close groups of social contacts.

We see this a lot in the hospitality and luxury beverage sector, where the cultivation of brand stories are told within immersive one of a kind experiences. This are as much about the product features as they are about cultivating the relationship with the ideals of a consumers own personal brand. Wealthy shoppers are growing to expect beautiful complexity, hyperreal experiences in retail environments, where personal experience is prized over product demonstration.

The new world of Deconstructed Luxury demands a new creative approach and a flexible attitude to media planning. The social capitol HNWI seek can’t be delivered with a single execution rather it takes an imaginative harnessing of multiple channels across multiple devices with a story that is both personalised and contextually relevant for that individual’s moment in time.

This personal element is no longer simply getting someone’s name right. Two new factors come into play here. One, innovations within print and production technologies mean we can produce truly one of one collateral at reasonable costs. Two, the vast ocean of data we have available and the ability to cross reference online behaviours, mean we can truly be personal, contextual and relevant. Which in our experience is the only way to break into and influence behaviours in this new world of luxury