What makes a luxury

While recession tightens its grip on the UK high street, sales of luxury goods are taking off. Top-end retailers at London Heathrow – among them Chanel, Hermès and a new Miu Miu store at Terminal 3 – recorded an 8.8% rise in gross turn over in 2011.

This is a story that BU’s in-house consultancy, the Creative Enterprise Bureau (CEB), knows well.

“The advertisers at Heathrow were looking to better understand why airport advertising might be a unique medium, particularly in the context of luxury goods for travellers,” explains Dr Mike Molesworth, Senior Lecturer in Consumer Behaviour and Online Marketing at BU.

“We’re looking at what makes luxury goods luxury. We’re looking at the importance of context in perceptions of advertising. Also, because there are a number of interactive formats at the airport, we’re looking at why interactive media might work better than traditional advertising,” explains Molesworth.

The findings should help Heathrow’s luxury brands better target their advertising, enabling them to capitalise on recent strong sales.

This project is typical of the type the CEB takes on. Set up in 2010 with Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF), the idea for the Bureau was conceived by some academics in the Department of Marketing and Communications.

Now in its second year of operation, the academic base for CEB work consists of staff from the Emerging Consumer Cultures Group (ECCG) – a research group based in the Media School at BU. Consultancy draws from the group’s knowledge of consumer behaviour and culture and relevant research in these areas.

“We want to connect business problems with our academic research and expertise,” Molesworth elaborates.

Students are also involved, giving them the chance to add paid consultancy work for real clients to their CV. These students work under the supervision of BU academics and their names go on all the reports. Such projects can offer unique and exciting opportunities.

“The Bureau impacts on the work of the university through teaching,” says Molesworth. “Academics can talk about their research in class, but students find it very interesting to see how it can be applied to a specific problem. The CEB helps to dismantle the idea that theory and practice never meet: through these projects, students see that big companies are very interested in the latest academic research and want to use that to inform their business.”

ITV asked CEB to explore whether advertisements shown during a commercial break work better when there is congruence between their tone or product and the programme. CEB found that this type of matching has been shown to benefit both programme and advertiser. “That shows how theory and academic research can help clarify a business problem,” concludes Molesworth, whose work with fellow BU academic Janice Denegri-Knott informed the study.

It is early days, but so far, the Bureau has proved popular and successful. Its projects are engaging a range of businesses and academics and creating positive opportunities.