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Over the past few weeks, Ferrari was reported to have banned Justin Bieber and the Kardashians from buying its cars. The luxury automotive manufacturer has since clarified that while it did not ban Bieber or the Kardashians, these celebrities no longer have the right to buy exclusive models and special editions, reported Marca, a Spanish national daily sports newspaper.
According to Marca, Bieber breached some of Ferrari's conditions because he reportedly made modifications to a Ferrari car he bought a while ago. This resulted in the car having "a totally different look". The car was later placed on auction in January 2017, Marca said. Quoting Ferrari, Marca said the luxury automotive manufacturer "reserves the right to decide on special editions". Earlier this month, Marca reported that Ferrari has decided to veto any further purchases by Bieber and the ban was later extended to the Kardashians, reported Marca on 12 May. Meanwhile, Italian language daily newspaper il Giornale reported that Kim Kardashian, Nicolas Cage, and 50 Cent have also been blacklisted from buying a Ferrari.
Luxury brands are known to partner with celebrities to further grow their fan base and boost their image. In this case, however, Ferrari seems to have made "a signature move" which is not surprising, Jessalynn Chen, Labbrand's Singapore managing director, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. Explaining why Ferrari's decision is expected, Chen said it is the only "super or hypercar" manufacturer that does not adhere to prescribed norms. Citing three main appeal factors when it comes to luxury brands, she said:
Luxury brands are expensive, exquisite, and exclusive.
The fact that only customers of certain profiles and statuses can afford to purchase, has always been a key selling point for ultra-premium luxury brands, Chen explained. With the move, Ferrari is redefining luxury beyond the monetary ability to purchase and collect. Instead, it plays on the exclusivity of cultured-ness, being more intangible.
In fact, Ferrari is known to take its exclusivity to the extent that even if a potential consumer can afford to purchase its cars, the brand will refuse to sell if it feels that the profile does not meet its approval or standards. "So, you may own a Ferrari car, but until you earn the recognition of the brand by following their guidelines, you can’t consider yourself a true owner. And that’s the appeal around Ferrari – it’s a constant strive and effort to be acknowledged," Chen said.
Based on the chatter surrounding Bieber and the Kardashians, it seems like being a celebrity isn't a guarantee that brands would be willing to budge on their brand guidelines and rules. While Ferrari's guidelines might seem severe to some, Chen said they are designed to protect the brand's power, equity, and image as the automotive manufacturer is a "staunch defender of its brand values".
"In Bieber's case, for example, Ferrari is a believer that its cars are a 'work of art', and messing with the cars to whatever extent damages the brand ethos, the car itself and its iconic designs. So not only Bieber, but people such as DJ Deadmau5, Nicolas Cage and Rapper 50 Cent are also not allowed to buy any further models from Ferrari," Chen said.
Nonetheless, Ferrari has been careful and diplomatic with its choice of words, clarifying that there is no blacklist banning individuals from acquiring its cars and that it reserves the option to carefully choose who has access to its most exclusive units.
The brand also gets to veto any further purchase, which Chen explained that if consumers eventually purchase one of Ferarri's cars from the resale market, they are not known by the brand.
"That said, every luxury brand behaves differently. How they work with celebrities and influencers, and whether or not they are receptive towards the individualised expressions via these partnerships, depends on how firm and authentic they stay to their brand essence," she said.
In the case of Ferrari, it does not hurt to lose a few customers because this allows Ferrari to be in control of the brand and indirectly, the individuals who can truly appreciate its art, craft, and performance. However, there are different categories and types of luxury brands. Hence, Chen said the ideologies and actions of each brand depend on who the brand wants to speak to and what value and experience the brand wants to offer.
How can brands and celebrities meet in the middle?
On the other hand, Graham Hitchmough, chief operating officer at Bonsey Design, believes this to be "little more than another media mirage that benefits no one but the protagonists themselves and the media channels that feed off it".
For Ferrari, it is a demonstration of how it preserves the integrity and aesthetics of its limited-edition marques at all costs – even in the face of rapacious celebrities.
However, at the same time, even as Ferrari defends its brand from megastars’ tasteless "money-no-object" custom jobs, Hitchmough said that the luxury automotive manufacturer still gets some reflected glory (and clicks) from the suggestion that it remains desirable to such rarified consumers. "The celebrities themselves, far from feeling snubbed, get yet more confirmation of their unique ‘artistic sensibilities’ and prodigious spending power, and will no doubt have other uber-luxury brands falling over themselves to fill the gap that Ferrari has created in their vast, warehouse-like garages," he added.
Ferrari is among the top 500 most valuable brands in 2022, according to Brand Finance and is one of the brands to be awarded an AAA+ brand rating. At the same time, celebrities such as Bieber and the Kardashians have amassed a huge following and are brand names themselves. Bieber, for example, has 237 million Instagram followers while Kim Kardashian has 313 million. Her sisters Kourtney and Khloe have 179 million and 244 million Instagram followers respectively.
When two reputable parties collide, it can be hard for them to meet in the middle, given they might have different creative visions and personalities. Luxury brands have always and can continue to leverage the power of celebrities, but depending on the brand's vision and behaviour, Labbrand's Chen said it can embrace and encourage a reasonable level of creative yet tasteful modification that still demonstrates alignment to the brand story.
Nonetheless, she pointed out that Ferrari's move serves as "a good and stern warning" to the celebrities and influencers of such stature as well as the affluent masses. "People should think twice before doing anything detrimental to the brand," she said.