How Luxury Brands Are Using Photography: Diver & Aguilar


Sophie Doran | May 10, 2012

Mike Diver, of photography duo Diver & Aguilar, tells us how luxury brands are using traditional and digital photography tools to build a consistent brand image across all platforms

Mike Diver, of photography duo Diver & Aguilar, tells us how luxury brands are using traditional and digital photography tools to build a consistent brand image across all platforms.

“Obviously the audience is completely different,” begins photographer Mike Diver, one half of Diver and Aguilar. “The level of sophistication, in the message that is being conveyed by luxury brands, is much more aspirational and complex than that of consumer products. With luxury you are buying into a lifestyle, becoming part of that fantasy and identity.”

“Identification with a brand is built up over time. Consistency of brand image in the marketplace – through the use of photography – is ultimately what gives each label its unique status and portrays the aspirational values that both the brand stands for and the consumer wishes to indulge in.”

Originally a music and fashion photographer, Mike Diver was an early adopter of digital technology within photography, after witnessing the dramatic changes technology brought about in the recording industry. The English photographer met fine-art educated Pedro Aguilar in London in 2005, forming partnership just months after.

The duo have since brought to life a number of editorials, portraits, product photography and campaigns for brands and publications such as Graff, Vanity Fair, Viktor & Rolf, Maison Martin Margiela and Tatler. Preferring not to categorise their relationship as a typical “photographer-retoucher” exchange, they describe their partnership as a deliberate mix of creative thinking and artistic skills, where they seek to integrate drawing and graphic design into photography.

“ Consistency of brand image in the marketplace through the use of photography is ultimately what gives each label its unique status ”

How are luxury brands using photography in communications? Which brands do it well and why?

Through the use of style, colour, story & emotion we can associate individually with the message that the brand is trying to convey to us. Looking back in time at traditional printed media, you can definitely see the connection with the global popularity of a brand and the success of creating that unique image.

Since I first started taking pictures in 1989, I believe that the campaigns of Armani, Dolce & Gabbana & Chanel in fashion have visually created the most impact. Cartier, Dior and Louis Vuitton in respect to the marketing of luxury goods and fine jewellery, because these brands have stuck with the visual formula that has built them into internationally renowned marques.

Dolce & Gabbana is instantly recognisable for its fantastical theatrical masterpieces, inspired by Fellini or The Acts of the Apostles. Cartier for the use of its iconic panther & the colour red in their highly polished advertising.

An advertising campaign for Graff and editorial featuring Thierry Mugler

What are the most important factors brands should keep in mind, when using photography to communicate with the affluent?

When “money is no object”, photography has to communicate the unique appeal of each brand to the potential client. This might mean focusing on a different aspect of the brand, one of which could be the rarity of the raw materials – diamonds as an example – and thus the exclusivity of the product.

Alternatively it could to be focusing on heritage or the lasting legacy of connecting with the brand over time. Here, Patek Philippe is the perfect example, where the brand has used the tagline: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”

With the luxury market is really important to understand the brand philosophy before you work with them; when we worked for Graff we needed to convey the purity of the diamonds, whereas for Viktor and Rolf it may be creating a fantasy that consumers believe in and associate with.

“ Adapting visuals for digital media has become fundamental knowledge, as has the ability to imagine major campaigns across all new & traditional platforms ”

Have the photographic demands of luxury brands changed now that they are engaging digital?

Absolutely and in many ways. Firstly, retouching, postproduction & CGI are now tools that many photographers have added to their repertoire and if they haven’t, they need to have access to and an understanding of them. Image quality and potential product enhancement with a specific visual signature has become a part of the brief every luxury brand client will expect of you.

Although in its current form the Web has existed for 23 years, it is only recently that brands have started to harness its potential to connect with their consumer audience. The use of social media to communicate with the audience not only needed interfaces such as Facebook, YouTube & Twitter to exist, but also the infrastructure like 3G/4G Broadband and fibre optic – and most importantly of all the smartphone.

Adapting the visuals for digital media use is also fundamental knowledge one needs to possess, as is the vision to see how the imagery will work in the context of a major campaign engaging all traditional and new media vehicles of delivery.

In September 2008, Canon revolutionized the industry by incorporating HD Video into its eos 5D SLR, bringing low budget motion film into the grasp of both photographer and client. With the popularity of sites such as YouTube, Vimeo & projects such as SHOWstudio & NOWNESS, clients have seen the potential to incorporate moving image into the project brief and many photographers are now making the journey from stills to motion.

Consumers are also fascinated by the “behind the scenes” movies and in some cases they can become more important than the actual final stills or video. It’s a way of the potential customer immediately becoming engaged both with the brand and creative process.

Editorial for Quintessentially & Intelligent Life magazines

How will luxury photography be impacted by the increasing need to advertise and display content on mobile devices?

The mobile has become the first point of exposure to media & product, replacing the desktop. As technology continues to evolve, definitively the speed at which we can access and pass on information will influence brand strategy. It’s estimated that one third of American teenagers possess an iPhone and in South Korea there is a one tablet per child initiative. So although not all of these potential consumers will go on to populate the realms of the affluent, it is serious business.

So how can photography be best implemented into this structure? Currently scanning codes such as Quick Response is a method of delivering to the consumer a full breakdown on the brand or product they wish to gain information about. Microsoft Tag will take this even further because unlike QR, the tagging system is fully updatable with new information about the brand or product as it becomes available.

So once you have made that connection to the brand or service, the potential to build the association and specific interest you have in the brand is there forever or as long as you choose. You might be particularly interested in engagement rings and therefore could be drip fed data in pictures and video format.

Augmented Reality is another platform that luxury brands are exploring. Hugo Boss has used the concept in-store with their black jack card promotion triggering catwalk shows & Tissot allowing users to see through their smartphone camera or webcam what a three dimensional representation of the watch would look like on the wrist .

The Mobile App is of course another means of communicating with the consumers, and is an excellent method of interaction between client and brand. Depending on the target audience of the specific brand Apps can either deliver useful data & statistics such as images in stills & motion, availability & pricing or use gamification as a means of connection with the consumer. Swarovski Elements is an interesting example of this.

“ Facebook has the largest potential audience for brands with 1 billion plus users. Future marketing in the virtual world will be built around this network ”

As a professional photographer, how do you feel about luxury brands using Instagram as a channel of communication?

Instagram is the hottest topic on the planet right now. Having been purchased by Facebook for $1 billion and gone from 15 million users to 50 million in a matter of weeks… with the launch of the android version its now gathering 5 million new users a week.

Instagram is now a method of connecting universally with your target audience whatever device they might be using, it’s not just a mobile app but also a social network . Three notable campaigns utilizing Instagram that stand out to me are Tiffany’s ‘True Love”, Bergdorf’s “Shoes about town” & Levis “Casting call”. All of these engage the potential and existing customer to interact with the brand. With Bergdorf’s #BGSHOES your Instagram image of shoes will appear on a map of Manhattan wherever the image was taken.

Of course in many cases the images are being carefully filtered so the content and quality still exemplifies the quality of what the brand stands for. But imagine the consumer’s reaction when they see their image appear on the website of their favourite brand. Possibly yet unexploited is the brands opportunity to then give something back to the consumer, for example sending them a printed copy of the Instagram photo or further promotional material, particularly within luxury brand where ‘ownership’ is so important.

Editorial for Tatler & Vanity Fair UK magazines

How do you see photography in the luxury world evolving in the next decade?

I think that for luxury brands who are using photography as a medium to express their brand, two things are going to be very important: to fully embrace the digital and social media revolution and to continue to offer its clientele something tangible and bespoke. In fact it’s the combination of the two strategies that will further increase the desirability of the luxury brand.

Facebook has the largest potential audience for brands with 1 billion plus users and therefore all marketing in this virtual world will be built around this network (or whatever will takes its place over the next decade). The reason Facebook purchased Instagram was because photo sharing is the most commonly used feature across its network, so it made sense to invest in the architecture that would increase the potential of this.

Brands will need to co-ordinate their marketing across all platforms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram etc. to get maximum exposure for their products and continually look for new visual experiences to captivate their target audience.

Hugo Boss have built a 3D website and Facebook page, if you sign up, they will send you a pair of 3D glasses to view the imagery and film – they are combining the Virtual and the real marketing experience. To complement this they will be streaming a live 3D Fashion show from Beijing “New Dimension” on May 18th. The select few will be able to experience this in person.

Burberry launched a similar concept to an invited audience with their 360º Catwalk experience in Tapei, with video and stills of the event shown on its Facebook page. They are also the most popular luxury brand on Facebook with an audience of over 12 million users.

“ With the financial resources that luxury brands have behind them, imagination will be the only limitation in fully exploiting both the virtual & the real ”

In a completely different approach – to celebrate their 165th Anniversary – Cartier spent 2 years making a 3 ½ minute commercial L’Odyssée de Cartier at the estimated cost of €4 million, plus an additional $3 million dollars in TV placement. This caused a tremendous amount of media coverage and publicity for the brand, it may be that only the affluent minority can buy into their heritage, but what it did achieve was to make the brand even more desirable than before and across all borders.

The commercial spread like wildfire across social media the next day, but what made it such a success as a luxury advertisement for Cartier was the sheer extravagance of the film.

There is a viral circulating right now that Instagram has used its $1 billion to start manufacturing a Polaroid Camera, but these types of ideas are no joke. Even in this age of digital technology, consumers still want ownership of a tactile product that you can cherish and that has soul. No more than those who can afford to indulge in luxury products.

I see it as vital that the two go hand in hand, our latest promotional material for example includes a limited edition set of fine art prints and a USB stick to view the work digitally. With the financial resources that luxury brands have behind them, imagination will be the only limitation in fully exploiting both the virtual & the real. Susan Sontag famous wrote, “Today everything exists to end in a photograph”. Never has this been a more accurate assessment of the world we live in today.

For other discussions regarding the future of luxury and communications, please see the following:

- The Most Profitable Marketing Channel: Nick Heys, Emailvision
- Augmenting Luxury Realities: Jonathan Chippindale, Holition
- The Post-Advertising Age: Jim Boulton, Story Worldwide

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