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Monday, December 28, 2009

Substance Abuse


In a city like New York, there is a lot of substance abuse. But it takes many forms, and one that may not immediately come to mind are companies that oversell and underdeliver by taking what quality they have and abusing it through excessive marketing.

I want to believe that behind great companies lie great products. That reputations are built on merit. That marketing is a recent addition. That the maxim most businesses want to follow is the pithy undersell and overdeliver. That they understand the disappointment and bad taste left by a product where the operative was to oversell and underdeliver.

However, when a few raise their voices at the dinner table, soon everyone must do the same to be heard, and a screaming match ensues. And so it is with an overcrowded marketplace of products and services. To undersell is perhaps to risk not being heard at all, regardless of the quality you have to offer. Developing a cult following for a product through word of mouth and evangelism is not the easiest to orchestrate. Companies like Apple have done well, however, this approach is often initially an organic process, not part of a marketing plan.

Louis Vuitton is a company that was built on merit - quality of product and innovation. I cannot speak for the quality or durability of the products today. They are so pricey, and I would be frightened to use them - its stores display their wares more as works of art in a contemporary museum than as products to be used. Bags run $1000 to $2000 dollars, and their signature piece of luggage in leather is $6000. In my recent travels seeking out holiday windows, I decided to drop in to the Vuitton flagship store at 5th Avenue and 57th Street. The store is sleek and modern.

Louis Vuitton was born in France and began designing flat bottomed trunks in the 1850s. Even at that time, his distinctive designs were copied, and the problem of counterfeiting remains today. Vuitton employs a full-time team of lawyers and investigators just to curtail piracy. Read more about the company here.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find any company that flies by the quality of their content or products alone. Marketing and branding is absolutely part of the business model today, even more so with a legacy brand name. The question is whether any product lives up to its marketing. Perhaps some of you have experience with Louis Vuitton products and can let us know - is this still a quality product or a case of substance abuse?

1 comment:

Mary said...

Might "subsance abuse" refer to the purchase of $2,000 handbags and $6,000 luggage? The serviceability and even the looks are not necessarily better than a less expensive alternative. I'm sure they're not purchased for their comparative durability.
Or am I a reverse snob? Like a lot of other New Yorkers, I revel in how inxpensively I can get something of value.