Louis Vuitton or Hermès: Which is the more authentic luxury brand? This is the question that Forbes retail contributor Pamela N. Danziger took on recently, comparing the two French stalwarts in a battle centering on authenticity, which she says is positively “demanded” by the modern consumer, so much so that, according to a study conducted by visual content engineering firm Stackla, “an overwhelming 86 percent of consumers say brand authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support."
That 86 percent figure was “validated by another global study by Cohn & Wolfe,” which found that "91 percent of global consumers said they would reward a brand for its authenticity via ‘purchase, investment, endorsement or similar action.’" In short: Authenticity is impacting sales, and in the luxury sphere, where “consumers’ trust in heritage, craftsmanship and quality is rewarded by their willingness to pay a premium for the privilege of ownership,” this consideration is even more detrimental.
"Authenticity is considered the challenge for the luxury segment of our time," according to “The Strategic Role of Authenticity in the Luxury Business,” a study from Patricia Anna Hitzler and Günter Müller-Stewens of the University of St. Gallen. And with this in mind, Danziger endeavored to rank Louis Vuitton and Hermès, ultimately finding that “Hermès stands head and shoulders above Louis Vuitton in authentic luxury” for a number of reasons.
One such reason: “Authentic luxury whispers, it doesn’t shout," and yet, Louis Vuitton, says Danziger is shouting, by way of the "$5.4 billion – 42.9 percent of [its] annual sales" that Louis Vuitton spends on company advertising. “If that isn’t shouting,” per Danizger, “I don’t know what is.” Hermès, on the other hand, "spends a reported 5 percent of its annual sales ($298 million of $6 billion in revenues) on advertising.
Louis Vuitton is also faulted in accordance with Danziger's approximations for its ubiquity. Not mincing words, Danziger states, “Today, despite the high price commanded for its canvas totes, Louis Vuitton and those LV bags may be the world’s biggest perpetrator of logo pollution … Everywhere you go, an LV bag is lurking. Ubiquity stands in complete opposition to the code of conduct of an authentic luxury brand.”
On the other hand, she finds that “Hermès' does the opposite of Louis Vuitton’s in-your-face branding,” rejecting both bold logos and paid-for celebrity endorsements. Instead of filling ad campaigns with celebs, “Hermès does it right, using true brand purchasers to give authentic testimony of the brand’s extraordinary value.”
Still yet, Danziger asserts that “authentic luxury is elusive, not readily accessible,” and points to Louis Vuitton’s 460 branded boutiques. She notes, however, that “Hermès is not far behind with just over 300 boutiques worldwide.”
The differentiating factor here? “Hermès strictly limits production and distribution of its products with the explicit intention not to meet consumer demand, but to enhance it. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, responds to the pressures of its stockholders to drive growth. That requires more products distributed in more places.” She also turns her nose up at Louis Vuitton’s production practices, i.e., shoes made in Romania and labelled as “Made in Italy.”
And finally, while she credits Louis Vuitton for doing “a great job of maintaining aggressive growth through expert marketing and management,” says that the brand “is playing fast and loose with its authenticity. This may be the Achilles heel of the brand that will trip it up eventually. The truly wealthy customers want the real deal – authentic luxury brands – not poseurs or pretenders.”