Essay: Hermes Birkin Bag

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Hermes Birkin Bag Diffusion of Innovations

Hermes Birkin Bag

Diffusion of Innovations

The Hermes Birkin bag, named after the British film actress Jane Birkin when she worked with the CEO of Hermes to design the "perfect hand bag," was introduced in 1984 (The History Behind The Birkin Bag, 2011, The Brand International). With prices starting at $6,000 and ranging up to six figures, the Birkin is the ultimate badge of wealth and privilege. These custom-made, highly-coveted status symbols are worn on the arms of A-list celebrities such as Lady Gaga (Lady Gaga destroys another Hermes Birkin bag, 2010, Shine) and Victoria Beckham (Bag lady: Victoria Beckham's 100-strong Birkin bag collection that's worth £1.5m., 2009, Daily Mail). The Birkin is all the more exclusive because of its notorious waiting list, which has been quoted as being as long as ten years. (Hermes Bags, 2011, Love to Know).

In 2010, Hermes did away with the wait list for the hard-to-get Birkin bag, "so now anybody with a tax return and life savings can join the fashion elite and get a Birkin" (Hermes Birkin Bags No Longer Have A Waiting List, 2010, She Finds). The elimination of the wait list has increased accessibility to purchase the bag, which, in turn, has decreased its exclusivity. This has broad implications for the brand's elitist image and its diffusion among its adopter categories, three of which will be discussed below.

Scenario 1 - Innovators

Innovators are the first 2.5% of a specified population to adopt, or in the case of a Hermes Birkin, to purchase a product (Rogers 1995, p. 263). A key attribute of innovators is venturesomeness, or a keen interest in new ideas that "leads them out of a local circle of peer networks and into more cosmopolite social relationships" (Rogers 1995, p. 263). They are typically young, wealthy and willing to take risks in all aspects of their lives, not only when adopting a new idea (Rogers 1995, p. 263).

The consumers who were the first to adopt the Birkin bag perfectly fit the characteristics of innovators. They include A-list celebrities (Sengir and Park, 2011). who have extensive financial resources and the obvious power and prestige that come along with their fame. By the nature of their chosen profession, they are risk takers, working in fields that are very difficult to break into, let alone become extremely successful. They often pride themselves on their extravagant and daring lifestyles (Greatest Risks They Ever Took, 2010, Forbes).

Typically, an innovator would have an ability "understand and apply complex technical knowledge" (Rogers 1995, p. 264) to undertake the risk adopting the innovation. In the case of the Birkin, however, limited technological know-how is needed to "use" a handbag. The in-depth knowledge that would be needed, however, is an understanding of the attributes of the Birkin that make it so expensive and so exclusive. These attributes would include: the process of how it's made (hand-made by an individual artisan); the rarity of the materials (ostrich and crocodile leather, gold-plated hardware) (Sengir and Park, 2011) and its history of how it came to be.

The Birkin innovators moved very quickly through the stages innovation-decision adoption process. The very first adopter of the Birkin bag was Jane Birkin herself. Others probably first became aware, or gained knowledge, of the Birkin bag shortly after she began wearing it in public. Ms. Birkin knew "how it worked" and "why it worked" because she worked with Hermes' CEO Jean-Louis Dumas to help design the bag (There's no fun in a bag if it's not kicked around, 2011, Telegraph).

The persuasion stage of the innovation-decision process is when an individual develops a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the product (Rogers 1995, p. 164). The Birkin innovators would have moved quickly to this stage, since favorable attitudes about the Hermes brand already existed. At this stage, where individuals actively seek more information about the innovation (Rogers, p. 164), the celebrity social circle communication lines were sure to have been buzzing with news of the new Hermes "must-have" Birkin.

Once the celebrities learned that the new bag was available, the decision to purchase the bag would most likely have been immediate. Depending on the celebrity's connections and influence, that decision might not have been able to be acted upon for quite some time because of the wait list (Hermes Bags, 2011, Love to Know). Therefore, implementation, or putting the Birkin bag to use, may not have occurred immediately. Although, in all likelihood, the knowledge of the Birkin would have been limited to a select, elite few, so that supply would have been able to keep up with the minimal demand at this point in the diffusion process.

At the confirmation stage, the Birkin innovators would have sought approval (Rogers 1995, p. 166) from their peers by proudly showing off their new bag. Positive feedback and reinforcement of the purchase was most certainly given, if not directly in the form of a compliment from a peer, then indirectly by the individual getting preferential treatment in social settings, e.g.. getting a table at an exclusive Beverly Hills restaurant or being invited to an exclusive Hollywood party.

Scenario 2 - Early Adopters

Early adopters are the next category to adopt an innovation, and account for 13.5% all adopters (Rogers 1995, p. 264). They have a great deal of opinion leadership, and are "considered by many as the individual to check with before using a new idea" (Rogers 1995, p. 264). They have a high social standing, are generally respected and serve as a role model for others in the system (Rogers 1995, p. 264).

The Birkin early adopters include the A-list celebrities as well, but these are the celebrities who are more risk averse than the innovators. This group would also include women who are not necessarily celebrities, but those wealthy fashionistas who are able to afford luxury goods like a Birkin (Fashionista definition, 2011, Urban Dictionary).

The communication channels through which the Birkin early adopters would have gained knowledge of the handbag were their interpersonal social networks (Rogers 1995, p. 163), such as high-society parties, political fundraising events, and luncheons at the country club. Also, fashionistas closely follow new trends and are predisposed to spotting fashion innovations. Seeing a snapshot in People Magazine or footage on Entertainment Tonight of a celebrity sporting a Birkin would pique the interest of the early adopter and most certainly contribute to her being intrigued and impressed, thus persuading her into having a favorable opinion about the bag.

This would lead the early adopter into the decision stage of the process, where she would possibly make phone calls to her friends and/or search through magazines and the internet to get more information on how to purchase a bag. At this stage, the early adopter would find out about the waiting list and then would try to use her influence and power to get the bag more quickly. The implementation stage occurs when the she finally obtains the long-awaited bag. As with the innovators, the early adopters get confirmation of their decision as soon as they begin wearing the bag in public and start to get noticed. Also, confirmation is substantiated when celebrities get press coverage because they own a Birkin, or, in Victoria Beckham's case, owning a collection worth 1.5 million British pounds (Bag lady: Victoria Beckham's 100-strong Birkin bag collection that's worth £1.5m., 2009, Daily Mail).

The obsession with obtaining a Birkin inspired fashion expert Michael Tonello to write a book, Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag. Tonello, an opinion leader in the fashionista world, most likely had a tremendous influence on elevating the exclusivity of the Birkin's brand image though his detailed descriptions of his adventures "from eBay to Paris auction house; from Vespa to Aston Martin" in pursuit of the "It-bag" (Tonello 2008).

Scenario 3 - Late Majority

The late majority adopt an innovation "after the average member of a system. Like the early majority, the late majority make up one-third of the members of the system" (Rogers 1995, p. 265). Typically, this group is greatly influenced by peer pressure, and adoption may be an economic necessity (Rogers 1995, p. 265). But for the Birkin bag late majority, the price of the bag is a barrier to adoption; they simply cannot afford even the lowest priced Birkin and would resort to purchasing a knock-off, or replica.

The late majority become aware, or gain knowledge of an innovation through mass media channels, as opposed to interpersonal and word-of-mouth channels for innovators and early adopters. An example of this for the Birkin bag is when it was featured on an episode of the hit television show, Sex and the City, which "helped to thrust the Birkin and its lore into the consciousness of those outside its demographic" (Givhan, 2004). The description of a "How to Spot a Fake Birkin Bag" video, posted on the web site of Access Hollywood, claims that the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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