Tiffany & Co. – How Reach Out… Without Falling?

Venerable Tiffany & Co is facing a dilemma and declining sales – and that for a few years now.   On the one hand it believes that it has lost its cool among the young and with it cultural relevance, desirability and growth potential.  On the other hand, a key source of sales and the high-end image remain well-off clients who are usually well past their 50ies and the high-priced pieces they buy which were rather designed in the 60ies, like those by Jean Schlumberger.  Younger clients still buying Tiffany seem to favor those cheaper sterling silver charms the brand has become associated with.  By now about half of total sales have price points below $600.  Compare that with the Love collection by Cartier – which is ‘popular’ with Millennials according to Business Insider – starting at around $4,500.

We recently came across a new effort by the jeweler to rejuvenate its image and reach out to at busy Grand Central Station.  While retaining iconic elements like the boxes and bags in the recognizable robin’s egg color, there clearly is an attempt to make the brand look modern and approachable on many levels: context, design, offerings, price range. And we were told by people we know at Tiffany’s, that, after an extended slump, sales during the holiday season 2018 have been very satisfactory – including at his new store.

But does Tiffany strike the right balance between reaching out while feeding the prestige image?  There seems little in the way of uniqueness of the idea, design or artistic expression that makes up for the fact that these are particle board boxes on spray-painted hand carts.

Take a look:

And compare that with what Louis Vuitton did with spray paint in its store to attract a young audience – and this was in 2009.

In other words (or just visuals), the idea to keep a Prestige brand fresh and attract new segments and generations by braking your own high-end marketing mold from time to time can work – and that while preserving your pricing.  Those Stephen Sprouse-inspired items sold at or above the ‘standard’ LV-logoed fare (and some are prized collectors items now).

Ironically, it was a new CEO – Frederic Cumenal – who was lured over from LVMH (owners of the LV brand) in 2011 and who developed the rejuvenation strategies.  As part of it, he hired Lady Gaga to endorse the brand in a Super Bowl ad that raised eye brows.  But, again, it did so less for the kind of daringly seductive stunts the celebrity is known for but rather for coming across as a desperate attempt to make the two brands fit in an authentic way.

Compare that even more traditional (1780), high-end Paris jeweler Chaumet breaking its advertising mold and that of the industry:  In 2014 the brand hired actress Marine Vacth who had just won a Palme D’Or at Cannes for playing a teenage prostitute. In the launch video we see Vacth playing with her jewelry – and herself, giving in to what you will be forgiven to interpret as lesbian or narcissistic pleasures.

This is not the typical campaign targeted the average and aging high-net worth customer.  In fact, many will find it somewhat ‘shocking.’ Yet it respects the houses’ preciousness, elegance and sophistication while adding a fresh dose of seduction – adding some fresh genes to the Brand, if you will.

The Chaumet film also illustrates the ‘Ueber-Brand’ way of leveraging celebrity.  Not as what often comes across as paid ‘pitch person’ but as a truly devoted user and admirer of the brand (more on that here).

Which brings us back to Tiffany & Co. and its most iconic and devoted young fans:  ‘Holly Golightly’, played by Audrey in the evergreen blockbuster ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’  Here you have an interesting young lady. She lives in a small, madcap apartment with her cat, loves experiences (like said ‘breakfast’ – also because she is ‘not rich yet’), loves nice dresses and seeing herself in them (no selfies yet, though) and loves that young man… if only he had a decent paying job (versus being a ‘creative’)  …  In other words, you have somewhat of a ‘Millennial’ – if she was born two generations later.

One question Tiffany & Co. should ask themselves is “Who is today’s Holly? How can she inspire us and our core audiences? What iconic manifestations of the brand can she help us create?

Tiffany’s has recently opened a Blue Box Café above its flagship store.  A very literal interpretation of this iconic part of Tiffany history (and following a general trend of retailers adding hospitality to their revenue steam). It will take a bit more digging deep into the brand DNA and re-interpreting of its myth to find what appeals to a new generation, reignites wonder and keeps elevating the brand.

Sources and further reading:

To read more about modern ways to elevate your brand – ‘Ueber-Branding’ – check out our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding.”
And if you need help elevating your own brand to Ueber-Brand status, then contact us.

If you want to read more on the ‘Ueber-Brand’ way of leveraging celebrities, then head over to this blog post..

Market watch provides this closer look at Tiffany & Co.’s recent organization, business and financial challenges (July 2017).

Business Insider reports on Cartier’s Millennial hit, the ‘popular but pricy’ Love collection.

More on the 2009 spray-painted LV collection inspired by pop artist Stephen Sprouse and related party here.  Note that LV continues the ‘break the mold tradition’.  In 2017 they launched a capsule collection with hyper-hip skateboard brand ‘Supreme’.

More on Marine Vacth and her Palm D’Or winning performance from New York Times magazine.  Daring – the actress and Chaumet.

More on the Blue Box Café by Tiffany here.

Tiffany explains the insight behind their new store at Grand Central:

But are they really quite ‘works of art’?



About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
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