Brand Expression December 09, 2018

Missing the (Marketed) Target on Purpose

We’ve been inundated with a very specific selection of ads. And one product’s advertising has always seemed to be the most unrelentingly generic: fine jewelry. Well, until recently. Gone are the days of strictly soft-focused fairy-tale ads, where idealized couples portrayed by blandly attractive models show an unrealistic, reductive version of what a gift of fine jewelry looks like. Advertisers are giving more thought to cultural changes among their target-audience members, and some have managed to capture a new facet of the next generation’s purchasing habits when it comes to the industry’s most coveted status symbol: diamonds.

In contemporary culture, our concept of marriage and long-term relationships has changed drastically. The average marrying age, for example, has been consistently on the rise (27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 and 22, respectively, in 1960). And for more and more millennials, not getting married at all is the right choice. In an effort to keep pace, agile marketers are changing how they portray these concepts—and the products that have become synonymous with them.

The latest campaign by the Diamond Producers Association, “Real is Rare,” is one such departure. In the two spots already rolled out, it’s clear that the DPA is making every effort to reach the millennial audience by incorporating into its ads its audience’s changing views on commitment in particular and luxury purchases in general.

So, when is it a good idea to consider shifting your focus? The short answer is always.

The DPA spots have effectively introduced luxury into a less-than-conventional relationship—one that celebrates small events rather than obligatory milestones, like weddings, anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day. Since the advent of social media, everyday events are glorified through likes, views, and click-throughs, and grand gestures can be shared with a wider audience more than ever before. These small celebrations are no less real or authentic to the people celebrating them than are larger events, and millennials crave that authenticity. They want to be unapologetically themselves, and they want to show the world. In response to these desires, the DPA offers up diamonds as one vehicle for doing that in the age of digital self-expression.

A Rarity in Marketing

The “rare” part of the campaign speaks to this celebration of individuality. In the tempest of a casual online-dating culture, finding the calm in the storm has become more difficult. So when you manage to establish a meaningful relationship, it’s precious. It deserves a lavish, statement-making symbol. Real commitment for real couples requires a real—not imitation—diamond (although the CEO of the DPA has claimed that a jab at producers of lab-grown gems was never what the campaign makers intended).

Here’s what stands out to us as marketers. Diamonds have been classically advertised to couples, usually of the married or soon-to-be-married variety. So for a diamond ad to show a couple in the midst of a heated argument—to even explicitly state that marriage might never happen for the fictional couple on display—is a notable leap. And what this tells the marketing-minded is that we’re finding ourselves on new footing, and the strategy behind this is worth exploring.

Taking New Aim

The reasoning behind the DPA’s tactic is clear: Millennials don’t take comfort in cliches. As the range of advertising mediums broadens, the more rapidly the demand for eye-catching content grows, and the stranger the content is likely to get. As long as these campaigns stay on brand, there’s really no limit to what can be considered acceptable. So venturing into uncharted waters can sometimes be the best way to reach a broader audience. And the “Real is Rare” marketing platform is just one example of how cliches and old standbys are being weeded out of modern advertising.

So when is it a good idea to consider shifting your focus? The short answer is always. If for no other reason than to stretch your creative muscles, it’s always worth keeping the concept of a brave new audience rolling around in the back of your brain, even if your ideas never see the light of day. That’s both the beauty and the curse of working in such a dynamic industry.

In an effort to keep pace, agile marketers are changing how they portray these concepts, and the products that have become synonymous with them, too.

The goal is to keep relatable content locked and loaded, and to aim for exactly the right targets with precision and purpose. The DPA, for example, has funneled its advertising through multiple digital and social channels, such as Tumblr and Refinery29, that keep millennials in the crosshairs, and has injected its new brand message in the ad breaks of streaming shows that are popular with this particular demographic (which may or may not have been how I came up with the idea for this blog—I’m looking at you, Hulu). For anyone familiar with how targeted advertising works in the digital realm, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the practice of shifting focus is nearly as old as the ad industry itself.

Procter & Gamble Is Rethinking, Always

We’ve seen this many times before, and often it’s been done with some degree of success. Take Procter & Gamble’s feminine-care brandAlways, for example. In an industry where the go-to representative of the demographic was a happy and playful grown woman, presumably well-adjusted (if a little one-dimensional) and usually one who enjoyed horseback riding and/or bicycling, Always made waves with its “Like a Girl” campaign, which geared its advertising toward younger, more vibrant figures—teens and young girls—and turned on its ear the pejorative phrase for which the campaign was named.

By focusing on the self-esteem challenges faced and overcome by women on the younger edges of their consumer base, Always managed to create quite a stir. The Adobe Digital Index’s second-screen top-10 list dubbed the ad the most talked about of the 2015 Super Bowl, and with good reason. The sheer number of mentions on a variety of internet platforms was staggering, and of the over 40,000 mentions, 84 percent of them were positive.

The goal of new advertising should always be to make the product relevant—and resonant—again, to hone the message against the whetstone of contemporary culture.

Always recognized that its customers no longer related to the common portrayal of themselves in advertising, and the brand sought to reconcile this in an emotive, aspirational way. The end result was one of the most memorable ads during a historically dad-ad-heavy event, and one that would pave the way for more relatable and empowering feminine-care advertising from that point forward.

Fitbit Blazing a New Trail

Fitbit began as a sporty, fitness-centric startup out of San Francisco in 2008, primed to ride the wave of increased interest in personal fitness and, by extension, the monitoring of said personal fitness. Fitbit has succeeded by leaps and bounds, dragging other fitness-tracker companies along for the trip. But what to do when nearly everyone (19 million registered users as of July 2016) owns one? Make it fancy. Fitbit recently brought some elevated, fashion-forward panache to the previously rubber-bound wearable device by introducing luxe accessories and designer collections.

One of these stylish new models is the Fitbit Blaze. The Blaze offers a selection of interchangeable bands and frames in a wide array of materials, appealing to the more sartorially conscious. The new Alta offers a sleeker, more fashionable look as an option for fitness-band wearers, and the brand has partnered with Tory Burch, Simply Vera Vera Wang, and Public School , well-known fashion designers all, for some of the Alta’s more luxe variants.

The intention behind these new ways to wear a Fitbit seems to be less about tracking movement and more about turning heads—and consumers are buying into it. The move was a strategic one, offering a slightly less expensive alternative to the cobranded Apple Watch Herm√®s that arrived on the scene last year. And this kind of statement-making development—which loops in customers who might want to track their steps outside the gym, looking stylish while at work or out on the town—is just the right way to extend Fitbit’s reach in the lightning-quick world of modern marketing.

An Unexpected Journey for Jarritos

As recently as 2011, the idea of Jarritos advertising to anyone outside its audience of Hispanic young men was groundbreaking. The Mexican-made soft drink, which comes in flavors like pineapple, tamarind, guava, and mango, had been popular almost exclusively among Hispanics for years, and the marketing team for Jarritos stuck to what they knew, using mainly Spanish-language radio stations to advertise their product. Even with the 2011 push to expand its consumer base, the company stayed close to home, targeting the tightly integrated community of Los Angeles and enlisting a street artist to paint murals broadcasting the new brand message, “We’re not from here,” which played up the exotic-import angle and sparked interest with an eye-catching outer-space motif.

One More Time, with Feeling

The goal of new advertising should always be to make the product relevant—and resonant—again, to hone the message against the whetstone of contemporary culture. For modern consumers, life has become less and less about fitting in or keeping up and more about standing out—celebrating one’s personalized take on the status quo, regardless of whether that take happens to resemble everyone else’s. And bringing meaning to the message in this climate is the critical task of a successful marketing campaign.

One of the quiet achievements of the DPA’s “Real is Rare” spots is that they don’t attempt to force the consumer’s hand by featuring a particular type of diamond product or harping on a current trend. They allow the viewer to associate the diamond itself with an emotion rather than a superficial, fleeting aesthetic. With this subtle omission, the DPA once again acknowledges how much the millennial audience prizes individuality, offering up a choose-your-own-adventure kind of shopping experience.

The common thread is emotion. These ads all succeed in avoiding tropes and in developing a new vocabulary with which to speak about the significance of diamonds, taking a personal interest in being active regardless of lifestyle, or society’s preconceived notions about a particular (and often underrepresented) demographic. The trick is to be convincing, and I’m not sure that the DPA’s current campaign accomplishes this.

In contrast to the “Real is Rare” campaign, Kay Jewelers’ ad “What Words Can’t Say” strikes a chord with far more conviction, showing real people in real relationships (not all of them romantic) struggling to express what their loved ones mean to them. This may not speak to all millennials, but as a twenty something who happens to have a deep connection to her family, I feel that it more closely associates diamonds with the emotions at the heart of an authentic relationship than the “Real is Rare” spots manage to do. Both attempts—and many others made by various jewelry sellers in recent memory—prove that the industry’s advertising tactics are undergoing a massive overhaul, which, as a millennial consumer, I’m inclined to welcome.

On the Other Hand

According to Forbes, the idea that millennials won’t buy diamonds without the help of a little pandering is a myth. Just last year, millennials accounted for $26 million in diamond-jewelry sales, more than any other generation and at a whopping 45 percent in the four key markets (the United States, China, India, and Japan). As the age group most likely poised to walk down the aisle, it’s not all that surprising to find that old traditions die hard. Whether or not personal perspectives or outsider expectations have changed when it comes to making long-term commitments, young people are still inclined to take the plunge formally, with a ring and a bended-knee proposal.

Demand for diamonds in the United States has been at an all-time high, which raises a kind of chicken-or-egg question,Did the rebranding from status symbol to meaningful memento need to happen, or is the increasing demand for diamond products a sign that the new marketing is working miracles? I’d venture to say that it’s our changing perspective that has more heavily influenced the way luxury and relationships are paired in the advertising world. So the lesson is to keep an ear to the ground and keep churning out new ideas informed by what you learn. You never know what kind of benefits you’ll reap—or questions you’ll raise—simply by refocusing the lens of your next campaign.

Photos/embeds: Shutterstock, YouTube

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