Exclusivity is a controversial phenomenon in any context, but marketing has its fascinating dynamics which make exclusivity seem nearly indispensable. With rapidly saturating markets and ever-changing consumer expectations for new products, the need to keep consumers satisfied and coming back for more has led brands like Apple and BAYC (Bored Ape Yacht Club) to continually infuse exclusivity into their branding.
By appealing to the human inherent desire to be “more than” or “better than,” conjuring a sense of exclusiveness around ownership of a brand’s products has driven customers to act on these impulses and motivations to, of course, the brand’s advantage. The “exclusive” strategy has not only helped respective brands stand out among their formidable competition, it has also driven up product sales and up-scaled brand prestige.
How have they made this happen, you wonder? Keep reading!
The Exclusive Apple: More than a fruit
Among the many English words that have partially evolved into meaning something different in mainstream vocabulary, “apple” is undeniably top of the 21st-century list. Now a formidable giant in the tech industry, every time someone says “Apple” non-contextually, the fruit and the brand may occur simultaneously.
You are likely to picture the Apple storefront’s pristine rows of technological screens and devices, exclusive not only in pricing but also in unique device designs, features, and seemingly endless utilities.
Despite being a genuinely bemusing sight ridiculed by rivals and, at times, discouraged by its own executives, these long queues for new iPhone releases are arguably one of the most overlooked factors that have contributed to Apple’s enduring hegemony in the smartphone market.
As all iPhones are sold on a limited, first-come-first-serve basis during the first weeks of launch, early ownership of the new iPhone model effectively becomes a temporary limited-edition scarcity that comes with a much-coveted identity of exclusivity: the perception of having something that others want, but do not have.
For those who get onboard this first-batch ownership, the new iPhones are a source of pride, envy, and desire. In those first few “limited stock” weeks, owners of this novel product become the center of attention and effectively become micro-influencers for the product within their immediate circles; social and virtual.
Knowing that word-of-mouth is one of the most reliable ways for promotion, Apple can indirectly persuade those who are previously indifferent to Apple’s products to become more interested and aware of their brand and products. This, in turn, lends additional legitimacy to the sense of exclusiveness that comes with each new model’s ownership.
Thus enticed, enthusiasm for subsequent products – already drummed up by reliably consistent media reports of recurring long queues outside Apple stores -adds more prestige to the brand, further reinforcing the pre-existing public perception which sees its (Apple’s) products as truly unique, worth camping overnight for, and definitely worth the exclusive hype.
BAYC: An Exclusive Ape
If you ever heard anyone else say: “You taught me what’s up, and then I bought an ape” before 2021, it’d be reasonable to assume that ‘I bought an ape’ truly meant the purchase of a literal ape.
However, when Jimmy Fallon, TV host of The Tonight Show (a show with millions of viewers across the world), said those exact words to Paris Hilton during his show in January 2022, the ape in question was not the animal, but an NFT (non-fungible token).
As much of the world watched from afar during the COVID-19 lockdown, the popularity of Non-fungible Tokens, or NFTs, exploded out of the blue in March of 2021, after digital artist Beeple sold an NFT work of his for a staggering $69 million at British Auction House, Christie’s. Kicked off by this explosive event, NFT trading in 2021, according to some estimates, skyrocketed 21,000% YoY.
Soon after, a very conspicuous-looking ape began to stare out the screens of many prominent influencers’ digital profiles, a Bored Ape.
The BAYC or Bored Ape Yacht Club phenomenon was developed by Yuga Labs. Launched in April 2020, the club initially sold out all 10,000 of their NFT apes in just 12 hours at 0.08 ether ($190); a not-so-cheap price at the time. There was no extraordinary offshoot of this for a few months until one night when the digital apes had their meteoric rise to fame.
In the following months of August and September, high-profile publicity was netted by BAYC when NBA superstar Stephen Curry purchased a Bored Ape for $180,000 and a collection of 101 Bored Ape NFTs sold for $24.4 million at Sotheby’s auction house. From there, celebrities officially joined the exclusive BAYC “party.”
Subsequent months saw big names across different walks of life (including Justin Bieber, Logan Paul, Eminem, Shaquille O’Neal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, and Jimmy Fallon among countless others) become proud owners of Bored Ape NFTs and, by extension, become members of the celebrity-packed – thus exclusive BAYC “community.”
Today, being a Bored Ape owner is more than just a cool trend, it is also an irreplaceable identity that only 6,455 people out of the planet’s 7 billion humans share. Having since become out of reach (price-wise) for most onlookers, the club remains one of the most recognizable names in the NFT sphere.
At a time when a considerable number of previously successful NFT brands are dying off, the BAYC is having major success branching into other crypto or off-chain activities. From launching its own metaverse to creating films featuring Bored Apes, BAYC has hands in every pie of things that its members hold considerable sway over, while non-members who wish to participate can only spectate from the sidelines. No doubt, the effect of this is an increase in the appeal and value of the club’s unique membership.
Riding on this relentlessly ascending wave of popularity buoyed up by the exclusivity of being a Bored Ape owner, in April this year, the price of a single Ape peaked at over $400,000 – a more than 2,000-fold increase in value! Even now, amid the alarming downward spiral in the overall crypto market, it still costs nearly $100,000 for someone to claim that coveted status of the ape owner. As far as membership goes, then, the kind of exclusivity BAYC is marketing seems to be working much better than intended.
A Few More Thoughts
So, what does exclusivity really do?
In the realm of marketing communications, generating exclusivity around owner or consumer status is proven to boost sales directly, and add a solid layer of prestige to the brand. As social creatures living in the age of social media, identity is everything; both perceived and actual. As a result, the motivation that emanates from the human desire to retain some sense of uniqueness cannot be underestimated.
By consciously choosing to create subsets of consumer identities based on product ownership, brands can generate enormous amounts of publicity just by encouraging speculation among their own customers. Upon firmly rooting customer anticipation in place, the actual act of consumption is expected to become a cultural performance through which the buyer displays ownership exclusivity to their peers and by extension, the uniqueness of their elevated identity – an act that rarely fails to encourage participation from others. Put simply, a brand’s exclusive identity and its success come from its ability to align itself with the desires of its customers, be it symbolic status or self-indulgence.
In terms of branding an item or product as exclusive—whether it be owning the latest iPhone or the newest BAYC jpeg—its success (or failure) essentially boils down to the willingness of its supporters (ie. consumers) to continually ascribe value to it.
It is correct that good products and strategically sound practices are enough to sustain a brand, its image, and its products, however, the potency of marketing strategies such as the propagation of exclusivity and desirability cannot and should not be estimated.
What better way to keep customers coming back for more?
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