FEATURE1 October 2015

Time is a luxury


We all know what luxury is. Maybe we’ve never had a lot of it, but we have a fair idea of what it represents. All rather obvious, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.


My colleague Milena and I asked a mix of people some questions about what luxury means and what it gives them. What do they think and feel about it? On the psychiatrist’s couch (metaphorical, of course), we learned the frames and mental models they have around luxury. We spoke to the comfortably off and the well-off; the ‘mass affluent’.

Metaphors are the way we all make sense of the world – unpack the metaphors and you open windows to our subconscious, our thoughts and hidden emotions. That’s why we used ZMET (Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique) in this research project.

Although luxury is in the eye of the beholder, some common unifying themes emerged. Time is central to luxury. It’s not simply that we can buy more down time, though that can be part of it. It’s the way everything is linked to time. Our pleasure in buying a luxury item stretches along the time continuum. Anticipation of a mundane purchase brings no warm glow, unlike looking forward to that expensive watch or holiday. Somehow in our recollection we compress time for tedious things (queueing at the airport gate) and stretch it for pleasurable experiences (the holiday itself). The feeling of luxury persists after the holiday in a nostalgic glow.

Tied in to time are four key human themes: protection, connection, freedom/escape and personal expression. We invest time to create protection for ourselves. Connection impacts on the quality of time we spend. We squirrel away time in the bank now (via investment) so we can release it later and escape to freedom.

Where luxury leads, guilt may well follow on. We assuage our guilt about buying luxuries by gifting or sharing them with friends and loved ones. Luxuries make us feel better about ourselves, manifesting personal expression. This may extend to ‘bling-free’ luxuries – the expensive under-stated car that only fellow (well-off) cognoscenti will appreciate. The authentic craftsmanship appeals to us – it makes us different from the crowd.

We need to reconcile the light and the dark sides of a luxury purchase – my family will benefit from it, even if secretly the extravagance nags at me. The most successful advertising will address this inner tension.

Richard Smith is a director at BDRC Continental