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Revisiting conspicuous consumption

The reason you have a front lawn? It's a tradition. Lawns were invented as a way for the landed gentry to demonstrate that they could afford to waste land. By taking the land away from the grazing sheep, they were sending a message to their neighbors. We're rich, we can happily waste the opportunity to make a few bucks from our front lawn.

Conspicuous consumption has a long history. Wasting millions of dollars on a shark in a tank, or on $50,000 platinum stereo cables that sound an awful lot like $2000 stereo cables (which sound a lot like $200 stereo cables). And on and on.

In fact, the origins of the luxury goods industry lie in this desire to waste, in public. 350 years ago in France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert dreamed up the idea of bespoke, rare goods as a way of improving France's balance of trade.  LVMH and other huge corporations collect brands that telegraph scarcity above all else. Not that they're better at performing the task at hand, merely that they are expensive and rare.

(Interesting note: it's estimated that 20% of all the women in Japan in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton bag... scarce?)

In every city there are expensive hotels that are noisy, with $56 breakfasts, no parking, blinds that don't make the room dark and rooms that don't have enough closets. But the very waste of paying extra to stay there ensures that you'll be surrounded by others just as wealthy and just as interested in proving it.

Rich people will always indulge the desire to stand out, but I wonder if there's a new version:

Spending on and investing in time, not stuff.

And it's not so wasteful, this focus on craftsmen.

The new trend in spending money is to buy things that are painstakingly hand built instead of efficiently mass produced. It might not be a better price than what you could buy at Target, but the very fact that you can pay for an artisan to create it, an artist to design it, a talented worker to bring it to life--that act makes a powerful statement about what you can afford and what's important to you. Instead of a bigger house, it's a house that's built from scratch by craftsmen. Instead of a bigger steak, it's a handmade dish of local poached vegetables...

All marketers tell a story. The "this is the best price and value" story is just one of those available, and in fact, it's rarely the most effective for the audience you may be trying to reach.

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