Every brand, as a – quoting Colin Bates – “collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer”, expresses the universe of values related to a product, a service, an organization or an individual [in the case of personal branding]. But values are not interpreted everywhere in the same way, their meaning could be different from country to country as well as from culture to culture. Let’s see an example with the concept of “luxury” according to English and Italian culture and language.
The concept of “brand” contains and represents on one hand the technical-productive characteristics and the market placement of the “something” that is represented, on the other the expressions, values, methods and ideals with which this “something” approaches the context in which it is inserted, productively as well as from the point of view of history, culture and society.
Therefore the importance of establishing such a framework of values is vital in order to be able to communicate them properly and to analyse their content accordingly to the consume environment in which the brand will be included. In many cases the interpretation of qualitative and emotional elements connected to this may in fact vary considerably if brought into contact with different socio-cultural contexts, creating very diverse expressions of collective imaginary.
Above all is the example of the concept related to the term “lusso” in Italian and the term that should be its English translation, “luxury”. In reality, the two words express two very different value structures in the respective languages and so for the related cultures.
While the Treccani dictionary reports as definition of “lusso” the following:
1a. Sfoggio di ricchezza, di sfarzo, di magnificenza; tendenza (anche abituale, come tenore di vita) a spese superflue, incontrollate, per l’acquisto e l’uso di oggetti che, o per la qualità o per l’ornamentazione, non hanno una utilità corrispondente al loro prezzo, e sono volti a soddisfare l’ambizione e la vanità più che un reale bisogno.
1b. La cosa stessa, o la spesa, che si ritiene superflua o comunque eccessiva.
2. Di lusso, locuz. aggettivale riferita a tutto ciò che comporta grande spesa, o ha carattere voluttuario, raffinato, e non è, in sé stesso o nelle sue qualità, strettamente necessario (contrapp. a ciò che è utile o semplice).
In English it would sound something like:
1a. Display of wealth, splendor, magnificence; trend (also usual, as lifestyle) based on superfluous, uncontrolled spending for the purchase and use of objects that, or for the quality or for the ornamentation, do not have a utility corresponding to their price and that are aimed to satisfy more ambition and vanity than a real need.
1b. The thing itself, or the expense, believed superfluous or otherwise excessive.
2. “di lusso”, adjectival phrase refers to anything that involves great expense, or has discretionary character, refined, and it is not, in itself, or in its qualities, strictly necessary (opposite to what is useful or simple).
The Oxford Dictionary reports instead, for “luxury”, the following meanings:
1. A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense.
1.1 An inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain.
1.2 A pleasure obtained only rarely.
Immediately we see that in the Italian language – and culture – the reference to “lusso” is primarily connected to the “display of wealth”, the “magnificence”, the “superfluous” and “uncontrolled”, to the “vanity and the “excess”, only secondarily to the “refinement “, although always unnecessary.
For the Anglo-Saxon language – and culture – , however, the first luxury connotation is tied to “comfort” and “elegance”, only later it refers to “high cost” and “non-essential” and always associated with “pleasure” and “desire.”
In summary, the linguistic definition of the term makes it clear that the concept of luxury in the Anglo-Saxon culture has a characterisation less connected to exhibition or exhibitionism than the Italian context, so – at least apparently – less negative and connected to the concept of “excess.”
Differences such as these, in the construction and management of a brand, can bring consequences [not always negative for the truth] often remarkable in its market positioning, depending on the cultural background of the interlocutors: the brand can be interpreted and perceived differently from what the owner would like, in some cases resulting in less appeal for potential buyers, in others attracting targets elsewhere disinterested in the product/service.
In both situations it becomes crucial to be aware in advance about possible effects created by incursions into collective imaginations not overlapped with the brand’s one, in order to assess any changes to its communication strategy depending on the socio-cultural identity of the interlocutors.