Harish Bhat

Limited edition mania

Harish Bhat | Updated on July 04, 2013


Last week, there was exciting news from Germany for people who love luxury cars and have the extra cash to splurge on them. Manufacturers of these highly desirable automobiles had just announced new limited edition designs, to spur consumer demand. I am sure hundreds of these exclusive cars have already been snapped up over the past seven days, by wealthy Sheikhs from West Asia or newly rich Chinese whose love for such luxury goods appears virtually infinite.

Limited editions have always been a great draw for makers of cars. Who can forget Aston Martin’s V-12 engined Aston, which was dubbed One 77 because only 77 cars of this design were made? Or, even more dramatic, Ferrari’s F458 limited edition, manufactured to celebrate the Chinese year of the dragon. Strangely enough for an iconic Italian brand, this car was decorated with golden-coloured dragons and numerous Chinese characters. Only twenty such Ferraris were manufactured for showroom takeaway, and they all sold in the space of a few days.

But if you think limited editions are all about exclusive goods such as luxury cars, you would be entirely wrong. Let me remind you of a memorable scene in the recent movie Iron Man 3, where Iron Man Tony Stark borrows a cheap plastic wristwatch from a schoolboy named Harley. Harley promptly reminds Stark that this is no ordinary piece, it is his sister’s limited edition watch, therefore a most valuable thing. And indeed, it is a Dora the Adventurer limited edition watch! Of course, a limited edition of a kids watch may mean a few hundred or thousand pieces, not just 20 or 50.

Let’s travel even further, towards daily use consumer products such as coffee. The company I work for owns a famous brand of coffee in the US, called “Eight O’Clock”. This is one of America’s great brands, with a proud and long heritage of expertise in coffee. Recently, Eight O’Clock launched a limited edition version of chocolate mint coffee, a special blend manufactured for a limited period of time. It received excellent consumer response.

From luxury cars to plastic wristwatches to roast & ground coffee, limited editions are almost always a big draw. Marketers of virtually every product or service can build strongly on this phenomenon if they understand the fundamental drivers that propel people to buy limited edition products. Here is a brief exploration of some of these underlying consumer motivators.

Exclusivity

Many consumers of luxury goods seek exclusivity from the products they buy. They revel in the knowledge that they are one amongst very few who own a specific car or piece of diamond jewellery. That makes them feel truly special and different from the rest. Limited editions, because they are strictly limited in number, confer on their owners this feeling of exclusivity immediately. Therefore the rush amongst well-heeled Chinese to buy a Ferrari F458 limited edition dragon car.

Future value

Many limited edition products are rare, and therefore, appreciate greatly in value over the years. Take, for instance, Omega James Bond limited edition wristwatches. Inspired by one of the world’s most famous movie franchises, and bearing stylish renditions of 007 motifs, only a few thousand of these Omega watches have ever been made. Connoisseurs of watches know that these pieces will appreciate to several times their original value within a decade or two, eventually appearing for sale in elite auction rooms. Consumers buy these limited editions as investments.

Novelty

Some limited editions attract consumers because of their sheer novelty. A splendid example of this comes from the Philippines, where Unilever launched, in 2005, a limited edition of chocolate-flavoured fluoride toothpaste. If you think chocolate and toothpaste are exact opposites in function, think again. This product was reportedly based on doctoral research which had concluded that an extract of cocoa powder actually protects the teeth. Whether or not you believe it, it cannot be denied that this product scored very high on newness.

Adding to a permanent-use product

Sometimes, consumers buy limited editions because they are useful and interesting supplements to an existing range of a product already being used. Here is an example. The MAC line of cosmetics recently introduced a limited edition “neon orange” lipstick, exclusively for the hot summer of 2013. Many women may wish to buy this for use on special occasions, alongside the usual colours of red or pink that MAC offers, which they apply on a daily basis. Similarly, Eight O’Clock chocolate mint coffee may work very well as an occasional specialty drink alongside the regular Eight O’Clock Colombian blends of coffee, though it may never replace the latter permanently. Brands also become more interesting to their consumers by offering these limited edition supplements.

Cult loyalty

Often, when people have been extremely loyal to a brand over a longish period of time, they tend to buy and treasure commemorative limited edition products offered by their favourite labels. Brands which have cult status are typically the strongest in this domain, because consumers are, by definition, crazy about them. That is why a limited edition 110th anniversary Harley Davidson motorbike sells like hot cakes, despite its very pricey tag. That is also why the Pink Floyd Limited Edition Platinum collection of music is so much sought after. Uniquely crafted to celebrate the legacy of this legendary music group, each product in this limited collection is individually numbered by hand, which makes it even more valuable for the die-hard Pink Floyd fan.

People like collecting many things. This appears to be a primal human urge, often irrational in its appeal. Some of us collect stamps or coins, others collect cans or bottles or matchboxes, and yet others have collections of vintage cars. Many limited edition products cater quite naturally to this urge. When the Coca Cola company launched the Jean Paul Gaultier limited edition tattooed bottles of Diet Coke, they became an immediate hit amongst collectors of cans and bottles. The limited edition Michael Jackson cans of Pepsi became collectors’ items to be treasured forever. This motivator works equally well for accessories such as wristwatches and handbags – there are collectors everywhere.

In conclusion, it is my contention that every product category and brand can create and use limited edition variants very successfully. Marketers can leverage one or more of these insights to create a new driver of demand, invaluable in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. So will we soon see limited edition shirts, books, teas, spectacle frames and refrigerators in India? We could then happily toast such interesting product launches with limited edition beer or wine.

(Harish Bhat is Managing Director and CEO of Tata Global Beverages and author of Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution. These are his personal views. bhatharish@hotmail.com )

Published on July 04, 2013

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