As we approach Art Basel Miami in less than two months, I can make three predictions. Lots of luxury brands will spend tens of millions of dollars – yes tens of millions – throwing lavish parties. Secondly, lots of expensive art will be purchased in a very short time. Lastly, most of the marketing dollars will be at best an exercise in public relations.
There is no doubt that the super rich have an affinity for expensive art and high-end culture. Look at the boards of any museum or philharmonic. And there is no doubt there is a strong connection because the artisan craftsmanship of beautiful jewelry, watches and the inspiration of fashion designers and other luxury purveyors with the talents of world class painters, sculptors, sopranos or tenors.
Yet at the end of the day, much of the audience for museum galas or Art Basel Miami parties is not the Ultra High Net Worth or Super Rich consumer that the luxury brands are hoping to network with and cultivate as customers. In fact the Miami Convention and Visitors Board expects close to 100,000 people to flock to the city. In the convention center alone over 250 galleries from 31 countries will be represented. If 2015 is anything like past years, there will be around 300 to 400 private jet flights bringing in the wealthy. If you want to say there is an average of six people on the jet, we are talking about 2,500 people who are probably UHNW, usually defined as having a net worth of at least $30 million. And while that is a nice concentration of the well to do, it isn’t much different than what you would find tomorrow in any number of cities across to country from South Bend to Baton Rouge and Austin, Texas. Major collegiate football teams draw between 80,000 and 100,000 fans to those games, and for the big schools when they play big games, having several hundred private jets flying in super rich alumni who will view the game from luxury boxes is the norm.
The picture above shows the lounge of Swift Aviation in Phoenix earlier today as fans of Arizona State mingled awaiting their private jets to see the Sun Devils play Utah tomorrow, not a marquis match-up. The Phoenix/Scottsdale area has three main airports that serve private jets and more than a half dozen FBOs (private jet terminals) like the one pictured above. This scene is repeated throughout the fall in dozens of cities around the country.
Wealth-X research shows that UHNW consumers account for over $200 billion a year in luxury spending, and as a segment are the biggest “niche” of consumers buying watches, jewelry, fashion, luxury autos and fashion.
While it may make sense for multiple reasons for luxury brands to bump heads with each other in places such as Art Basel Miami, the example of college football is a good lesson that the Super Rich have many other passion points beyond the arts. It is also good to remember as many billionaires dropped out of college as went to Ivy League institutions, and the vast majority matriculated from state universities. There are large Super Rich populations outside of New York, Miami and Los Angeles with plenty of money (there are more UHNWs in Minnesota than Russia and more super rich in Wisconsin than Saudi Arabia).
For luxury brands seeking to grow high-value, high-spending consumers, a broader view of who the wealthy are, what their passions are and where they can be found is a good way to find new clients. At the same time, there will be plenty of appreciative posers and appreciative fans of the arts drinking free champagne in early December in Miami Beach. Bottoms Up!