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Mentioned in this Article:
Stephen G. Kliegerman

Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing

Roberta Benzilio

Roberta Benzilio
Executive Director of Development Marketing

The Real Deal

Toning Down Luxe Pitches

In nod to current zeitgeist, value replaces ostentation

By Katherine Dykstra

When the Park Columbus first came on the market a year ago, the marketing team introduced the building with a campaign that emphasized the conversion's luxury, its high-end finishes and its amenities.

"It was the amenities-driven campaign you saw all over Manhattan over the past four years," says Hunter Frick, project manager at Halstead Property Development Marketing, which handled the marketing of Park Columbus, located at 101 West 87th Street. "We stressed the children's playroom, the attended lobby, the limestone bathrooms, the Sub-Zeros."

But what was the perfect pitch in early 2008's real estate market now seems inappropriate. Over the course of one year of tumultuous financial events (a mortgage crisis, bank bailouts and volatile exchange rates) buyers have gone from "more is more" to being wary of ostentation.

"Even [the high-end buyers] don't want excess now," says Sean Osher of Core Group Marketing. "No one wants to feel like they're paying for something they're not going to use or that's excessive, even the luxury buyers."

Well aware of this new psycho-demographic (marketing speak for "a new perspective on the same old buyer"), Halstead is in the midst of stripping the 80-unit Park Columbus of its old ad campaign and conceiving of a new one.

The slogan? Value is the new luxury.

"The brokers said that the one thing that was consistent was [that all the buyers] were saying, 'What can you offer me?' This was before even taking the tour," says Frick. "That's the reason we came up with 'Value is the new luxury'; it's to address their concerns before they come in."

The ads, which will launch in conjunction with Park Columbus' new model apartments this month, will still mention the building's amenities and finishes. However, those are, in Frick's words, secondary marketing messages. The bold print is all about value.

"I predict this will be a trend across the board," says Frick.

That, of course, also means that buildings can no longer get away with selling a fantasy. "A picture of a beautiful woman lying beside a pool with some guy leering at her, it's probably not what you're going to see in the future marketing or redesigned campaigns," says Steve Kliegerman, executive director of development marketing at Halstead.

"Anyone who is still targeting the high-powered Wall Street guy with a fantasy of a woman in a pool… that's not the target market any more."

Tossed out along with babes in bikinis is fantasy furniture. While planning this year's marketing of 58 Metropolitan, the sister building to Williamsburg's 80 Metropolitan, Halstead instructed its designers to be aware of the cost of the furniture in the renderings, something that simply wasn't done back when 80 Metropolitan was launched.

"Three years ago, you would have put a $10,000 sofa in a rendering without thinking about it," says Frick. "Today we're toning things back."

Along the lines of "relatable," Kliegerman predicts that more direct marketing — featuring actual pictures of kitchens and baths, or photographs of the neighborhood — will become status quo.

Truffles, a new rental building in Tribeca that began its marketing back in April, rather presciently took a back-to-basics tack with its campaign. The pitches have favored pictures of the neighborhood, its cobblestone and waterfront, over any renderings at all. The marketers prefer that interested lessees travel to see the property in person.

Another example is the latest e-mail blast sent to interested renters:

If you're expecting ... the touting of luxury and square footage ... a braggart's delight in artisanal finishes and ceiling height ... ballyhoo and cry for another example of starchitecture ... the promise of guaranteed chic ... bombastic developer speak ... the boast of hipster status ... the burden of property ... you won't be getting it from us.

"We wanted to avoid using the word 'luxury,' even before the current economic times," says Kevin Coughlin, general manager for Truffles, whose leasing office opens this month. "We felt it had become so overused that it had lost its meaning."

Not only has the word luxury lost its meaning, and therefore its potency, but buyers are becoming averse to ostentation, likely out of a sensitivity to their peers.

"Until recently it was chic to flaunt and display wealth," says Leonard Steinberg, a Prudential Douglas Elliman broker. "All of a sudden, it is chic to be discreet."

Steinberg says he has noticed an attention to this sensitivity in the conception and design of new super-luxury product. Sub-Zero refrigerators, for one, are no longer front and center in the kitchen, but instead discreetly hidden behind wood cabinetry.

"It's comfortable, it's elegant, but it's not gilded," says Steinberg.

Kliegerman expects something similar. "I wouldn't be surprised if the next marketing phase was more functional, more quality finishes that will stand the test of time."

But that, of course, depends on a spate of new projects, which is not likely to come this month or next.

"I don't think anyone is having any conversations [about new projects] right now," says Steinberg. "But the minute they do sit down and plan, it will be a whole new way of marketing."

Thursday, January 01, 2009