The Power of Fantasy

Here in the JCK magazine offices, we have a running joke about my editorial page versus publisher Mark Smelzer’s monthly letter: I rant, he raves.

One of my pet rants is the shopping experience, which, I’m happy to note, is becoming a prominent topic of concern in the industry. At the Centurion Jewelry Show in Tucson, Ariz., shopping was the subject of two keynote speeches, one by Claudia Rose, director of strategy for the Diamond Promotion Service, who discussed DPS’s seminal Retail Landscape Study (see “It’s Rough Terrain for Jewelers,” JCK, September 2006, p. 109), and the other by InStyle executive editor Martha McCully. Her presentation, titled “Labor or Love: Shopping and the Women Who Do It,” addressed the factors that trigger the “must buy” impulse in shoppers.

How well do jewelers trigger that impulse? Rose pointed to findings from the Retail Landscape Study that show consumers’ opinions of the jewelry shopping experience overall rank far lower than most jewelers would rate themselves and their stores.

According to figures McCully presented, 51 percent of adult women live without spouses, and women will out-earn men by the year 2028. Women out-shop men online, accounting for 52 percent of shoppers in that space, and women who don’t purchase online still use the Internet for product research.

McCully divided shopping into two categories: “gotta get it,” i.e., buying necessities such as groceries and prescriptions, and “gotta have it,” the emotional shopping that fulfills an inner need. Women use shopping to meet a variety of needs, from social to emotional to meeting a challenge. The motivation can be love, fun and fantasy, socializing, soothing, or simply wanting to splurge.

Fantasy is a powerful motivator.

Even before a consumer gets to the store, something has awakened that “gotta have it” impulse. Often it’s advertising, and, when selling fashion, it’s most often print advertising. Television and movies influence style trends, but it’s usually through specific ads or editorial placements that a customer begins to translate a vague yearning into a specific product.

That’s where fantasy comes into play, and fantasy is something the jewelry industry needs to improve in its advertising. Fashion advertising almost always depicts a lifestyle, whereas jewelry advertising almost always depicts a product—followed by a lengthy list of stores where it can be purchased. The photograph of the product itself is usually very attractive—and sometimes there’s a catchy tagline—but rarely does the ad “sell” the customer on how her life will “change” or “improve” if she owns this piece. It just says, in essence, “Here’s a pretty ring, and if you’re interested, here’s where you can buy it.” Not a strategy you’d want your sales associates to use! Yet it’s what many jewelry manufacturers and retailers rely on to draw customers.

Most fashion advertising provokes the fleeting sensation that if the consumer buys this handbag/skirt/scarf, she’ll become as glamorous as the people in the ad. This is not unlike the phenomenon that poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “that willing suspension of disbelief,” and it’s what makes books, movies, plays—and advertising—work. Intellectually, the consumer knows her life won’t change because she bought a certain handbag—but emotionally she feels like it will. And she feels good carrying the bag because she feels that she has become, in some small way, part of the beautiful, stylish people.

Here’s a homework assignment: Purchase the March issues of all the leading upscale fashion and lifestyle magazines. Tear out all the jewelry ads and line them up on the floor. Look at how many show product, and how many show models. Separate the two categories into groups.

Go back through the magazines and tear out the fashion ads. Lay the product-only ads next to the jewelry product ads. Lay the model ads next to the jewelry model ads.

Study the difference between the fashion ads and the jewelry ads. What do the fashion ads “say”? What do the jewelry ads “say”?

Notice how many more fashion ads tell a compelling story. Which one is more likely to inspire the “gotta have it” lust that drives women to buy? It’s not just about having a model versus product shot, either. There are plenty of still-life fashion ads that trigger the “gotta have it” urge—and plenty of jewelry model ads that are nothing more than a product ad with a face in it.

If you’re not sure you understand the difference, ask a fashion-savvy staff member, or invite some of your top customers in for a focus group and listen to what drives them. Once you tap into that core impulse, you’ll find it’s much easier to sell a consumer who’s already sold herself.