Tiffany, Trump, Jewelers, and Politics

This week, Tiffany & Co. waded into the always-contentious political waters with a note to President Trump regarding climate change, which appeared on its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds, and as an ad in The New York Times.

What makes this gesture notable is that Tiffany didn’t just profess support for the environment—something brands do on a regular basis. It took an explicit stand about a specific issue (the Paris Climate Agreement), and aimed it a public figure (President Trump, who reportedly named his daughter after the retailer).

Whether or not you agree with Tiffany’s point of view, the question is: Should the brand—or any brand—take a political position?

Traditionally, jewelers have shied away from any kind of controversy. As one veteran store owner wrote on my Facebook wall:

I had what could be described as a “bad experience” when I took a political stand on a local issue. It had an immediate impact on my business. My advice to Tiffany’s is leave advocacy to the advocates. Make the world a better place by selling beautiful jewelry, taking the cash and funding whatever cause trips your trigger.

Experts that talked to National Jeweler mostly agreed.

Yet, lately, some companies have disregarded this advice. Consumer brands try to respond to the larger culture. And today, the hot topic is politics, as my (and many other) Facebook feeds can attest.

Tiffany isn’t the only brand hopping aboard this train. There was also an unusual amount of politically themed ads during the Super Bowl and Oscars telecasts.

Is this smart? Tiffany wants to appeal to millennials, and the environment is an important issue to younger consumers. Its “Dear President Trump” missive got extensive publicity, certainly more than the average jeweler’s social media post.

“Showing the world what you stand for (and occasionally against) is now as important, efficient, and effective an eyeball-grabbing platform as exists,” wrote Seth Matlins, executive vice president of branded impact at WME/IMG in Time. “To win today’s battles for attention—as in, relevance, engagement, resource allocation, and return—you’d better let people know whose side you’re on.”

Of course, not all the reaction was positive. Some told Tiffany they would never buy anything there again. In the end, the calculation has to be: Is any positive reaction worth the blowback?

As counterintuitive as it seems, in this polarized era, it can pay to be partisan. We see this on cable news. For years, major news organizations cultivated an air of studied neutrality (most still do), even as they were regularly attacked by both sides for being biased one way or another. Then Fox News Channel premiered, with an unabashed conservative slant. It soon became the highest-rated news channel—though it’s now challenged by liberal-leaning MSNBC. “Neutral” CNN, meanwhile, is struggling.

It’s the same story in late-night comedy. Traditionally, talk show hosts like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno made fun of both sides. Jimmy Fallon has largely followed in that tradition—but recently he’s been overtaken by explicitly anti-Trump Stephen Colbert.

If taking a side works for news stations and comedians, could it work for consumer brands? No brand has become more of a political football than Ivanka Trump’s. Last we heard, its clothing sales were up.

Expressing political opinions can make you enemies, but also fervent fans. As consumers now have unlimited choice, a growing number want to patronize companies that reflect their values. One way brands signal that is by speaking out on issues their customers care about.

Getting political is not for everyone. Here are some common-sense rules for jewelers wanting to express controversial opinions:

– Make sure it’s right for your audience.

Quite a few jewelers have run “buy a diamond, get a gun” promotions. Those might be controversial in some areas, less so in others. Likewise, last year, Zales ran an ad featuring a gay wedding. While it was hardly the first advertiser to do that, one group still threatened a boycott over it, and a religious right activist suggested Zales’ execs are possessed by Satan. However when JCK screened that ad for millennials, they all singled out that moment as especially appealing.

– Be sincere.

After Tiffany ran its post on the Paris accords, some commenters accused the company of hypocrisy—after all, it uses mined products. But Tiffany can point to its longtime support for sustainability. The retailer even publicly lobbied against the proposed Pebble gold mine, which was (once) owned by a business partner. CEO Michael Kowalski had talked about becoming an environmental activist during his now-aborted retirement. So this ad appears to have sprung from its leader’s deeply held convictions more than business reasons (although one assumes those were considered, too; Tiffany is a public company).

On the other hand, when Pepsi ran a protest-themed ad, it sparked such a backlash—even from would-be supporters—that it was quickly pulled. Not just because the ad was silly­, but because Pepsi doesn’t necessarily jibe with “resistance.”

– Be prepared for blowback.

During last year’s presidential race, Brooklyn jewelry company Lady Grey received an order from Ivanka Trump. Its owners responded with a note saying they were donating the sale’s proceeds in part to the Hillary Clinton campaign. When that missive was posted on Instagram, it went viral, with some Trump fans vowing to put the company out of business.

Politics is an ugly business; these days, it’s uglier than ever. Passions are running high, and some people will take what you say personally. Expect that. That said…

– Be respectful.

People understand that not everyone agrees with them. But there’s no excuse for being a jerk.

(Image courtesy of Tiffany & Co.)

 

JCK News Director


  • JacquesVoorhees

    Excellent article. Yet I don’t look forward to a world in which all of us consumers have to carry around a spreadsheet identifying which grocery stores, which car dealerships, which gas stations, etc. happen to support our own political causes. I can’t speak to whether this is smart marketing, but it strikes me as something that will help further polarize our nation. And I’m not sure we need something right now that does that.

    • F Mark Funk

      Jacques not only do I agree about the dread of having to know which brands we support and which we are against but no matter which side a brand takes on any issue, they MUST realize that at best they are pleasing 50% of the market and upsetting 50% of the market.

      • Ashley McNamara

        Agreed. Seems like we’re sailing off the edge of the map … thar be monsters! I must say I’m not anxious to allow my business to become a political football, used and abused, in today’s political arena ….

  • Nice to see a large corporation taking a stand on a issue knowing in the long run, it’s good for business on a global scale. I applaud them. I feel the politicians have made this a political cause in our country, not Tiffany’s and others who see it’s global, life, economy issue. Regardless of what could be causing problems for our climate, more countries need to help find ways to curb our use that’s impacting it along with natural causes. #prettysimple

  • Jes E

    What happen to just making tasteful jewelry to attract different facets of customers? Adding a political message is detrimental to a brand and its established customer base that will purchase an important piece(s). Despite all the media, a good portion of established customers are not thinking like millennials its quite the opposite. Remember the three things we never talk to a customer about? Politics, Religion and their spouse.

  • Robert Metz

    Bravo Tiffany! Some things are more important than ruffling a few customer feathers. Breathing is certainly one of them. I believe supporting a cause of universal importance will do more to benefit this retailer than fear or profit motivated silence or sadly misinformed indifference. In a difficult retail environment, boldness can be a virtue.

  • Everyone has an opinion on everything. In the end for retail, it’s all about the bottom line. Opinions expressed by retail is hoped to benefit their bottom line.

  • ginofrater

    Congrats, to you Tiffany. I will buy from your store in a flash. Thanks .Ginofrater

  • Joe Long

    I’ve long followed—and applauded—Tiffany’s advocacy of environmental protection for two reasons that are neither political nor partisan,. First, regardless of what you might believe about global warming, pollution is a public health hazard, and it is in society’s best interest and our economy’s— in the long run to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. That the nations of the world unite for the betterment of our global environment is in all our interests. Second, businesses have a vital role to play in the health of our society, beginning with their employees and extending through to consumers and citizens who may be affected by their business activities. It’s cynical to think a company might care about humanity only as a marketing strategy. My 45 year marketing career started with a company that (at that time at least) cared about quality products, quality service, revenue, profit AND the communities in which it conducted business. Ever since, I have seen many stellar business leaders take a stand to do good in the world, not just make money. The belief that ONLY profit is important in a business is a cancer that destroys the ultimate well-being of us all.

  • Shiv C

    I personally do not feel Politics should be ever involved in business. Tiffany & co. has made a Huge mistake. perhaps sales are going down and they need media attention. Their focus should be better product, better service and they can support good causes with their own funds.

  • Lapidary Artist

    I’ve always said Jewellery is political. I think people need to realize that politics is not just about the maintenance of society but forms part of the fabric of our character and underscores every decision made. An artistic gesture, such as creating a piece of jewellery, is an act with a meaning and that meaning also carries political connotations. The message does not necessarily have to be strongly held, and sometimes polarizing, beliefs such as liberal, nationalist, fascist, Trump or Hillary, any other such view. It can carry a subtle message such as a creator who makes ‘wedding rings for women’, which in turn carries the message ‘I do not support marriage equality’.
    The act of selling is also political, and retailers, wholesalers and the like, cannot avoid this whether they like it or not. The act of choosing one supplier over another has a political consequence.
    Choosing to remain in complete ignorance or indifference also send a political message, which some will understand as one who is easily manipulated. In my view this is dangerous and is a reason why we should all inform ourselves of the politics of life. The politicians will act on behalf of their constituents when there constituents expressly put them on notice of losing their power. Complacency is not an option.
    The main point is that there is nothing to fear in all of this, we do not need to carry ‘spreadsheets’, we are not about to be eaten by monsters (unless choosing to try to remain ignorant or indifferent), the world will not cave in, and in fact may become better when we express our views, so long as we remain, as Rob expressed in his penultimate paragraph, respectful.

  • JT Curtiss

    “CEO Michael Kowalski had talked about becoming an environmental activist during his now-aborted retirement. So this ad appears to have sprung from its leader’s deeply held convictions more than business reasons…”

    As damning of a blurb as you’ll ever see right there. Follow the money they always say, and following it here exposes the truth; the CEO ran a “note” on the shareholder-paid “eyeball grabbing platform”, to promote those personal convictions in lieu and instead of performing his paid gig of promoting for “business reasons”.

    “To win today’s battles for attention—as in, relevance, engagement, resource allocation, and return—you’d better let people know whose side you’re on.” He got the attention alright, and he let people know exactly the side he is on…alienating the other side and half of the company’s client base in the process.

    We’ll see how the resultant “return” on “resource allocation” goes, but based on today’s (5/24/17) financial results report, not too well. Kowalski should and ultimately will, pay the price for misappropriating company (shareholders) capital to further his own political agenda, just as the shareholders are paying for it now.

    • JT Curtiss

      In followup, how thankful to God should we all be that our President Donald J. Trump has faithfully executed his promise to put America first, seeing through the crass misuse of the Tiffany platform by the company’s executive to manipulate the honestly held (if woefully misinformed) issues of some of its client base to promote his personal political agenda.

      Anyone who actually listened to DJT’s presentation after his carefully and seriously deliberated decision to remove America from (one of) the most one-sided “accords” ever foisted upon us by those it would favor and the mis- and mal-feasance of our former negotiator knows the truth.

      Now to alter or replace the effort with a legitimate one, whereby all who contribute to pollution will pay to reduce it, and all who gain from it in the meantime will do so fairly and equitably, in the best interests of America, the world, and the planet.

      There is more promise-keeping to come, in spite of the obstructionists and haters who do what they do out of pure spite, and in spite, of what is genuinely best for our Republic. The duly elected president is our best opportunity in decades to save ourselves from those who wish it dead, both within and without the nation’s borders. Speaking of “deniers”, those people define it, but the Patriots (aka Deplorables) will not be denied…to include the 50% of Tiffany’s own market base that was forsaken in this political ploy.