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StrategyFeature

“The gaming universe can bring luxury brands to life”

Second event jointly organized by Luxury Tribune and the Swiss Center for Luxury Research (SCLR), the conference “Luxury, gaming and superheroes: a winning formula” was a success. Let’s go back to the highlights and learnings of this memorable moment. Replay of the conference available here.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita20 mai 2021

The luxury industry has been investing in gaming for a few years now, aiming to reach the Z generation, 90% of whom are now gamers. Here, the House of Gucci and its association with ZEPETO, an application and social network that allows users to customise avatars and create imaginary worlds (Gucci)

The conference “Luxury, gaming and superheroes: a winning formula” was held on Monday 17 May in the Horizon room of HEC Lausanne. The debate was moderated by Cristina D'Agostino, founder and editor in chief of Luxury Tribune and Felicitas Morhart, professor of marketing at Université de Lausanne and founder of the SCLR. A trio of renowned guests were present: François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet, Kelly Vero, video game designer and fashion disruptor, and Robert V. Kozinets, professor at the University of Southern California and Entertainment marketing specialist. The objective of this conference was to understand why luxury finds close interest in the gaming industry, how its values are infused and how societal themes are nowadays conveyed by heroic fantasy movies and video gaming. More than a hundred students from sixteen universities joined online, as well as luxury industry professionals all around the globe.

The discussions between the speakers, live at the University of Lausanne and the participants via zoom were passionate. From left to right: Félicitas Morhart, founder of the SCLR, Cristina D'Agostino, founder and editor-in-chief of Luxury Tribune, François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet and Kelly Vero, video game designer. (DR)

A need for escape

Watchmaking needs to be able to gather talent, high-end savoir-faire and unexpected offers

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet

Before tackling questions related to ethics, sustainability, inclusion, as well as anticipation visions infused by pop culture, Cristina D’Agostino reminded that the virtual world answers a need for escape. A need that has been growing even stronger since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, while reminding that pop culture is hugely successful, such as the Avengers: Endgame in the movie theaters. Furthermore, it is essential to note that there will be three billion gamers by 2023. It is therefore not surprising that a brand such as Audemars Piguet is paying tribute to superheroes with the Royal Oak Concept "Black Panther" Flying Tourbillon.

The Royal Oak Concept "Black Panther" Flying Tourbillon. (Audemars Piguet)

“I wanted to use this character in order to illustrate our savoir-faire”, explained François-Henry Bennahmias. I went to Los Angeles to seal the partnership. Black Panther is a superhero that very well summarizes the values that are dear to Audemars Piguet: innovation and forward-thinking.” This partnership is already a popular success, as reminded by the CEO of the brand. “In only five hours, all of the available pieces, as in 250 watches, were pre-ordered. The excitement is huge, in spite of some criticism received on social media. But sometimes that’s the price to pay when you dare. Watchmaking needs to be able to gather talent, high-end savoir-faire and unexpected offers.”

François-Henry Bennahmias and the actor and producer Don Cheadle, famous, among other characters, for his role as Colonel James Rhodes in the Marvel Studios films. The meeting between the two men was instrumental in the signing of the partnership between Audemars Piguet and Marvel Entertainment (Audemars Piguet)

The world of gaming has been taking risks for more than twenty years. Risks that watchmaking doesn’t take anymore, some brands still sell their watches in the same way as in the 2000s.

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet

He then reminds the people’s need for escape since the beginning of the pandemic: “Everyone shifts from one screen to another, from the computer, to the smartphone, to the television. People need fun, they want to enjoy themselves with beautiful objects and have live exchanges with their friends and family. Brands have the responsibility to bring hope, entertainment, enjoyment and emotions. And pop culture is a strong symbol of this.”

Enable inclusion

Robert V. Kozinets, professor at the University of Southern California and Entertainment marketing specialist, explained that “mass culture is symbolized by product. Pop culture is therefore a result of what people do with it.” Before elaborating enthusiastically: “The world is filled with stories, and if you look closer, these stories enable inclusion

Robert V Kozinets, Professor at the University of Southern California and one of the three speakers at the conference (GILBERTO PRIOSTE)

Even if it has taken a bit of time to see true heroes from different ethnical backgrounds, they are now becoming more present and not just reduced to roles that are scary nor violent. People want to find answers to existential questions of their time in pop culture: about life, morality, how to be a good partner, a good friend, about good and evil. In the past, religion could answer these questions. Today, pop culture can be a conduit of responses. Never in history have we been fed with such amounts of content. By navigating through Netflix, we can observe that the most popular shows are those that offer this spectrum of answers. Black Panther is a great example, a trailblazer Black hero.”

People want to find answers to existential questions of their time in pop culture

Robert V. Kozinets, professor at the University of Southern California

While the most avant-garde industries in gaming remain fashion and automotive, the inventor of the mythical character Lara Croft, Kelly Vero, then elaborates: “What we seek in luxury are versions of ourselves, we aspire to find an elite version of ourselves. That’s why we buy these types of objects. In the metaverse, we build worlds with iconic characters. During these uncertain times linked to the pandemic, the world of heroic fantasy offers a dream location. It’s one of the reasons why the gaming industry is thriving and why luxury brands strongly want to be part of it. Games can infuse life to many luxury brands.”

Kelly Vero, video game designer, fashion disruptor and Tech Investor (DR)

François-Henry Bennahmias builds on the latter: “The world of gaming has been taking risks for more than twenty years. Risks that watchmaking doesn’t take anymore, some brands still sell their watches in the same way as in the 2000s. At this stage, it was therefore logical to ask Audemars Piguet’s CEO whether the intent to invest in gaming was still ongoing. The response remains enigmatic, but he still showcased the t-shirt he had chosen specifically for that evening at the conference, illustrating a strong symbol: FaZe Clan, the gaming company among the most influential in the world, with more than 350 million fans worldwide.

What we seek in luxury are versions of ourselves, we aspire to find an elite version of ourselves

video game creator and fashion disruptor

Yet can a luxury brand easily convert its fans from metaverse to reality? Kelly Vero is convinced that they can: “It is already the case in Southeast Asia. Gamers are waiting for digital purchases to be transformed into physical purchases. The Louis Vuitton “Skins” in the game League of Legends, or the recent involvement of Burberry in Honor of Kings are proof of it. People’s desires and what they play with in their video games appear in the physical world as well.” And to the crucial question of a listener about whether Audemars Piguet would one day offer virtual watches only, François-Henry Bennahmias confirmed nothing but simply added with a wry smile: “Wait and see”.

Can video games change the world? Yes, according to Kelly Vero and François-Henry Bennahmias. And Kelly Vero concludes: “Gamification casts a light on new realities. It also allows to explore questions of sustainability, gender, inclusion. The virtual world can certainly symbolize the ultimate democracy.”

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