Exclusivity is a vital component of any luxury brand’s marketing message, so it should come as no surprise that some brands go to extreme ends to protect that exclusivity. But those efforts do not always sit well with the consumer public, and that can create some PR tension for the brand, especially if it mishandles the messaging related to the issue.
A recent example of this is the upscale British fashion brand, Burberry. It’s well known that Burberry is targeted at a certain, higher-income, market base. Sometimes, though, business realities can lead to overstocks, racks and racks of unsold items that have to go somewhere. From the perspective of the brand, they can’t be just “given away,” because that would dangerously dilute the power of the brand as well as one of its prime selling points.
However, when a headline hit announcing to the general public that Burberry destroyed about $37 million in overstocked clothes, accessories, and perfumes, last year alone, many consumers were outraged.
But what really set people off was the messaging Burberry used to attempt to soften the news. According to the company, the items were destroyed in an “environmentally friendly” way by “capturing the energy” generated by the burning items. Consumers were not assuaged.
And that’s a reaction that Burberry must have seen coming. After all, those who tend to be more environmentally conscious, overall, also tend to be more concerned with social inequities and what they may see as unfortunate aspects of “crass commercialism.” To these people, the wholesale destruction of perfectly good clothing is unthinkable.
Burberry continued trying to explain, saying a good portion of the destroyed products where because of a product deal with perfume firm Coty, which would be making a new line of perfume for Burberry, necessitating the destruction of the previous stock. The company said this was especially necessary in light of recent counterfeit Burberry perfumes flooding the market and devaluing the company’s products. They didn’t want actual Burberry products being “stolen” or acquired at a discount, thus diluting their brand profitability any further.
As reasonable as that might sound, it’s still not an easy “sell” for consumers to buy. They see a company that made too much product, and now is destroying it to keep it out of the hands of people who could not otherwise afford it. That may not be a fair reading of the situation, but it’s a popular one… and it’s a perspective that Burberry is faced with countering.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR.