As the concept of luxury becomes increasingly intangible in the networked age, brands are experimenting with digital to attract Generation Z says creative delivery exec, Elizabeth Holdsworth...

In the post-recession age of discreet anti-bling (think Kinfolk: rustic, white-filtered and highly Instagram-able lifestyle scenes), the idea of luxury is becoming ever more abstracted, and brands are experimenting with ways to position themselves as aspirational within the digital realm. How do you engage with a generation that has grown up online, visually fluent teens who are skilful digital strategists on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr? Add to the equation that, until recently, this generation neither expected – or have ever had to pay for – online content.

Burberry’s Snapchat campaigns were an early stride in conquering the ethereal world of teen luxury. Since then Snapchat has morphed into the new catwalk. Meanwhile on Instagram, Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign rolls around in bed with a flawless Kendall Jenner and takes to the skate park with an open-shirted Justin Bieber. Because Facebook’s biggest growing demographic is 55+, teens are seeking refuge away from older generations on platforms that are exclusive to them. Snapchat has over 100 million daily active users, 71% of which are under the age of 25.[1]

Originally released only on Tidal, Kanye West’s seventh studio album, ‘The Life Of Pablo’, is a haphazard attempt to bring luxury consumerism to the digital world of teens, the Gen Z demographic who are less interested in glitzy material possessions than the allure of new technology and services. Fans could only listen to’The Life Of Pablo’ by signing up to the premium streaming service.

Launched in October 2014, Perez Hilton labeled Tidal as ‘the streaming service for millionaires’, where the music itself takes on the flavour of a luxury status symbol. This sense of exclusivity comes from the subscription fee itself and also from the service’s options and respective price points — differences in audio quality that will only be perceptible to those already owning high-end sound systems. Any difference between Tidal’s so-called Premium and HiFi services will go unnoticed by consumers who are most likely to be streaming on smartphones and listening though headphones.

Tidal’s subscriber numbers reportedly doubled in the two weeks following the release of ‘The Life Of Pablo’, but it seems the tide of exclusive streaming is yet to turn. The platform is still dwarfed by services like Spotify, and has also failed to keep pace with Apple Music, which emerged around the same time. Retracting the original plan of Tidal-only exclusivity, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ has since emerged on other music services, achieving much greater impact. However Tidal’s subscriptions look set to explode following the release of Beyoncé’s video album Lemonade, available to view by subscription only.

This isn’t about luxury sound. Teens don’t care about lossless, hi-fi audio. They care about what’s trending, being part of the peer conversation, keeping up with the world’s biggest artists. This is about aspiration, of belonging, selling a more abstract idea of luxury than ever before — a dreamy Instagram still of the Kardashian Klan reclining in white Calvins. If luxury brands want to connect with Generation Z, they need to learn a life lesson from Pablo and continue to communicate these moments digitally, while constantly being aware of the limitations – though growing potential – of the paywall.

[1] DMR, By the Numbers: 60 Amazing Snapchat Statistics.