Though luxury is still inherently rarified, today our desire for it has become unrestrained. Meaning that, even in tough economic times, when value may dictate many purchases, we have continued to seek lesser or inexpensive ways to experience it. And this has created a new niche – and a ‘mass’ desire – for ‘premiumised’ products.

Whilst luxury is still the pinnacle, the gap has now dramatically closed. We expect luxury and special moments every day and by creating this bridge between the standards of the luxury world and the mass market we can now experience privilege at differing price points, making the luxury effect accessible to all. Premiumisation has made the impossible dream possible.

Food is one sector that has seen a phenomenal shift when it comes to quality and perception  – and one where premiumisation is probably the most prolific and pronounced.

The benchmark was initially set in 1998 when Tesco’s Finest range created a pivotal moment for premiumisation within mass-market food. It succinctly used luxury’s visual language – black, silver, emotive language, refined and stylized photography – in a way which continues to be emulated today by its competitors as shorthand for a higher quality experience.

Expressions of premiumisation are now evolving from this established handwriting to new and more individual rhetoric. And it is worth comparing and contrasting a notable few to show the scope of the luxury influence and ideals – and to identify just where a new and more disruptive approach and evolution may be leading – or indeed narrowing – the field for the premium and luxury landscape overall.

Ask anyone to name examples of premiumisation – particularly when it comes to brand and designer collaborations – and I’m sure they would probably be able to name dozens. The list is now endless…and this is the sticking point. This initiative has become so prolific and so abused that there needs to be a very good reason to now embrace this route. Only the very original or very best are in a position to borrow the true traits of luxury or differentiate themselves to create new limits of desirability in this way.

Just as – if not more – prolific, however, is the focus on authenticity. We have seen a phenomenal rise of new artisanal brands across virtually every category – from confectionery to beer to personal care. And with authenticity being the driving factor of their success, we have also seen many established brands feeling the pressure to compete. These brands have been looking for ways to redefine and refine their offer by emphasizing their substance through quality, process and craft and the provenance of their ingredients, – time-honored luxury ideals that are recontextualised for a new and ever growing audience.

Where the luxury/premiumisation landscape radically changes is through a new – and marked – disruption of category.  We are witnessing the emergence of truly revolutionary visual languages that are bringing new energy, excitement and impact – breaking established norms – to set radically new and different premium standards.

Originating in the US, two brands are doing this in quite different but ultimately desirable ways. Mast Brothers handcrafted chocolate, hailing from Brooklyn, has bucked against the synthetic and/or traditionally gift packaged premium trend. Creating a product that is proudly rustic and natural, its premium and ultimately collectible edge comes from combining truly exciting flavors (Serrano peppers, cocoa nibs, almonds and sea salt) with intriguing and purposefully naive packaging designed by friends and family. Whilst at the other end of the scale Bardot ice cream has been positioned as ‘the world’s sexiest confection: the most decadent gelato robed in graphic fantasy’ – and it is a true menagerie of individual products housed in a monochrome and red graphic execution. Bardot has successfully met the challenge of moving an everyday and usual purchase to an unusual, sensual and captivating experience.

I make no apologies for being an unashamed foodie and for using food as the most direct analogy here. Premiumisation in this category – probably more than any other – has provided what we could term ‘inclusive exclusivity’ for one and all and is one of the most obvious categories with which to highlight and showcase the very many influences and ideals of the luxury effect.

But what does all this mean more broadly for the future of both premiumisation and the future of luxury? We want luxury to lead – and to innovate. But luxury no longer follows strict category rules or cues and instead leads on imagination and originality to assert its status. Though this does mean that copying traditional and maybe more prescriptive luxury cues is no longer an option for premiumisation. Instead, those looking to master premiumisation need to copy the luxury approach – returning to core values and quintessential beliefs to create ever more unique and individual expressions.

Premiumisation needs to come from the heart of the brand and be reflected in its behaviour – it’s about staying true to who it is, building on what makes it special and finding the most appropriate ways to heighten that specialness.

A truism maybe, but luxury makes us feel special because it is special. And we will always aspire to this more special, different and probably better quality of life. Premiumness, as with luxury, establishes difference – our difference – but at a price that can be afforded.

The parameters and ideals of luxury by their very nature are forever shifting  – and for brands this means striving to drive difference to create future definitions of the ever-desirable luxury effect.

Originally published by Luxury Society