Can Luxury Brands Boost Black Achievement?

April 14, 2011  |  

By Christina Burton

A group of scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem did a recent experiment that ended with a remarkable result: owning a designer handbag or bracelet may make a person feel like more than just a million bucks—it may actually boost human performance.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral researcher on the team and professor at Duke University, found that brand name products can act like placebos on people, much like the effect of a harmless pill given to a patient to see if it produces a psychological “feel-better” effect.

In the study, Ariely’s participants, who were given products tagged as luxury brands, read better, listened better and concentrated better in comparison to the participants who used the same products that were marked as cheaper brands.

However, branding expert Rob Frankel says that “there’s no way” that Louis Vuitton can make a person do better in life. Frankel, who is white, says when it comes to the black community, it’s all about what he calls “the golden rule of marketing.”

“If you want to go fishing, go where the fish are.”

Popular luxury brands have cornered the African-American market by simply copying and pasting famous black entertainers into advertisements or casting a desirable black actor into a commercial or magazine spread.

An example: Sean “Diddy” Combs. The hip-hop businessman is the lead brand manager, marketer, advertiser and product promoter of Cîroc vodka, a premium spirit owned by alcohol-maker Diageo PLC. Since Diddy got on board with Cîroc in 2007, the brand’s sales grew over 552 percent.

The  retail industry employs 19.2 percent of blacks. According to a Harvard Business School study, being surrounded by money and luxuries “might very well have an effect on cognition and decision-making.”

If luxury brands improve human performance, Ariely’s research is the lone ranger in proving it. Frankel attributes the powerful feeling that a black person might get when wearing a brand name to a lack of self-esteem and a lack of literacy longstanding since the time before federal legislation rid blacks of their civil, educational and economic shackles.

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