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Bieber vs. Ferrari and the power of velvet rope marketing

Justin Bieber learned the hard way that the power of an exclusive brand is not to be underestimated. 

According to reports, the pop superstar has been banned from purchasing future exclusive models and special editions of Ferraris because he painted his version of the car neon blue. Making changes to the vehicle goes against the company’s code of conduct. 

Instead, Bieber will only have the right to purchase run-of-the-mill series production models of the luxury car. And while it may mean he won’t be buying any more limited editions of the fancy car, Darian Kovacs says this is actually a brilliant marketing strategy.

“The amount of earned media and free publicity Ferrari got for that, you know, it’s one, maybe two less cars they’re selling to the Biebs,” said Kovacs, who runs the Jelly Digital Marketing firm in Fort Langley, B.C. 

“But in turn, the existing members are standing a little taller today because they’re quite proud of what they belong to.” 

It’s a tactic known as velvet rope marketing, named after the kind of club that has a bouncer outside deciding who can go in, and making others line up behind a red velvet rope. 

Ferrari has a code of conduct for people who purchase and drive their cars. (Kegun Morkin/CBC)

“The idea is that you are creating a sense of exclusivity, a sense of a VIP experience, a sense of lust is what you’re building for that product or service,” said Kovacs.

Member of the club

According to Ferrari owner Gary Sandberg, the method works.

“I mean, it’s the exclusivity of ownership. So it says basically: ‘You’ve made it,'” said Sandberg, president of the B.C. chapter of the Ferrari Club of America. 

By those standards, Sandberg has made it not once, but three times. Sandberg owns three Ferraris. For him, it’s about more than just having a fancy car. 

Darian Kovacs runs the Jelly Digital Marketing firm in Fort Langley, B.C. (Submitted by Darian Kovacs)

“I have a cousin who’s a psychiatrist in Seattle, and I said to her, you know, 20 to 30 minutes behind the wheel of a Ferrari — just all of the problems and issues just disappear and you come away just so refreshed,” said Sandberg. 

“It’s a great therapy session.” 

But the luxury car company is far from the only brand to employ the velvet rope tactic. Clothing brands such as Supreme and Yeezy make their mark selling limited releases of select items. 

Not a perfect system

Kovacs said businesses aren’t always ready for the hype created by exclusivity.

When Jillian Harris, a Canadian TV personality who has appeared on shows such as Love It Or List It and The Bachelor, created a subscription box full of home decor, fashion, beauty and wellness products from her favourite brands, would-be customers crashed her website. 

“She promoted it through her Instagram and got people really excited and said there’s a limited amount of subscriptions. And the day when the subscription became open, you could sign up for the daily box that actually broke the internet,” said Kovacs. 

Jillian Harris’s Jilly Box was such a popular exclusive when it came out that it crashed her website. (Submitted by Jillian Harris)

There are other downsides, too, said Kovacs. If demand for a product is high, knockoffs are sure to follow. And while that’s not really possible for a car like Ferrari, the market is flooded with knockoffs of clothing brands like Supreme. 

“Because of their exclusive nature and limited runs and releases of certain products, they’re quite prone to the black market, quite prone to copycats and people selling fake versions of said product,” said Kovacs. 

He said it’s important for those companies to create other options for customers.

While brands such as Supreme limit their releases, it can pave the way for knockoffs. (Demetrius Freeman/Bloomberg)

“If you’re able to help channel them from becoming, you know, frustrated, disgruntled, repulsed, you kind of say: ‘OK, here’s the next thing.’ You can be a part of it so long as you have to keep that momentum going.”

And sometimes it means saying no to one of Canada’s biggest popstars, though as Kovacs said, that can add to a brand’s cache. 

The CBC reached out to Bieber and Ferrari for comment and hasn’t received a response.

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Jennifer Keene.


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