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JCK’s 2021 Holiday Commercial Roundup

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Welcome to JCK’s 12th annual holiday commercial roundup.

Despite my express wish last time, this year we’re back on Zoom. Since many expect this to be a bridal-focused holiday, with weddings set to boom, we assembled an online focus group of seven brides-to-be, with recruiting help from the people at PriceScope.com, the diamond shopping and advice forum; Original Eve Fine Jewelry; and my colleagues at JCK.

The seven fiancées were: Natalie, 25, an office manager from Michigan; Joanna, 45, a business analyst from New York; Karen, 40, who works in human resources in Michigan; Chloë, 33, a teacher from Rhode Island; Julie, 35, an actuary from Ohio; Keisha, 34, a health care professional from Ontario, Canada; and Rachel, 22, who’s from Texas and works in marketing. Some had their weddings postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking forward to getting married in 2022.

This group was asked for their opinions on the following seven commercials, which are listed in alphabetical order by brand.

Banter by Piercing Pagoda: “Solid Gold, Real Silver, Why Settle?”

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Joanna: I’ve known Piercing Pagoda for many moons. I knew their jewelry, but did I know that it was real gold or silver? Not really, until I saw that ad. I liked the pieces that they showed. They were very fun, very youthful. But I’m not their target audience.

Rachel: I am in the demographic it was targeted toward. But the jewelry wasn’t super appealing to me. It was trying a little too hard to be super hip, with the little emoji jewelry, and the “Cheese” jewelry. It kind of felt cheesy to me.

Karen: With the “Cheese” and “Life” jewelry, I [thought]: is this like retro mom jeans, and it’s cheesy on purpose? I couldn’t tell if it was intentional or just off the mark. The message of it was kind of cool: You’re doing this for yourself, you don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s a nice change from what I usually see in jewelry marketing, which is a lot of conformity and a lot of “you should do this because everyone does this.”

Keisha: I have never heard of this company. The product and production of the commercial looked cheap. It reminded me of a mall jewelry kiosk, which is funny, because it sounds like that’s what it is. It’s almost like they’re trying hard to convince people that they have real metal.

Chloë: [I don’t buy lots of jewelry] because I didn’t think I could get real silver or real gold at a price that felt affordable. There was something about this ad that made me feel I can get a nice pair of studs that are affordable. But then again, the styles didn’t appeal to me at all.

My thoughts:

This ad from Piercing Pagoda—sorry, Banter by Piercing Pagoda—talking up its “solid gold” and “fine jewelry,” struck me as both solid and fine. It delivers its message clearly and is fun and watchable. I’m not sold on the slogan, “Because I say so”—which, among other things, sounds like the name of this movie—or for that matter, the name change to Banter. But I’m not in its target demo, either.

Cornell’s Jewelers: “Start Your Story at Cornell’s Jewelers”

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Natalie: I liked this one. It felt real and authentic.… I liked the inclusivity of it. The ending where it showed the family that owns [the store], makes it feel like they’re bringing you into their family.

Chloë: This was my least favorite ad, because of the first couple. I really hated the “I love you more than football” comment. It was cringey. That made it feel super gender normative, and that’s not a place where I’d buy a ring. As we met the other couples, like the lesbian couple toward the end, it became a bit more heartfelt.

Karen: It gave me some feels. I liked the fact that it was a local jeweler, I’m all about supporting local businesses. I liked that it tried to be inclusive. It spoke to me, as someone not in the traditional age demographic, and not the traditional “we’re 20 years old, we met each other in college” [ring buyer]. I like the perspective that jewelry is a piece of your love you can carry with you. If you were skeptical about wanting a ring, it might push you in that direction a little bit more, because it’s not a status symbol, it’s a piece of my person to carry with me, which is something that resonates with me.

Rachel: I definitely agree with the comments about the first couple and the football thing, that was super cheesy. After that, I loved the inclusivity of the biracial, and the older couple, and the gay couple. It was really awesome to see to that, and you get the feeling that this is a business that caters to everyone, no matter who you are. They just want to appeal to you and your loved one, and give something that matters to you. I really liked the testimonials, it gives the business a lot of credibility to hear from actual people who went there and bought diamonds.

Joanna:  I liked the stories. The diversity was great. When you see it’s family run, it’s family owned, it gave me the feels. It pulled at the heartstrings.

My thoughts:

I found the just-plain-folks in this spot for a Rochester, N.Y., independent charming and sincere. (I assume they’re real people; if not, they’re damn good actors.) It’s not as slick as the others on this list, but it has a sweet down-home—and, yes, inclusive—vibe.

For the record, most panelists hated the “football” line.

De Beers: “A Diamond Is Forever”  

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Keisha: I don’t know how I feel about this one. The quality, the production of the commercial was really nice. Of all these commercials or companies, De Beers is the one I’ve heard the most about, and heard the most negative connotations about, so maybe that’s clouding my judgment. I also think that “Diamond Is Forever” is getting a little old. They need to come up with something more refreshing. The commercial was nice, but would it compel me to go buy one of their diamonds? No.

Chloë: This was definitely my favorite. It was beautiful. The music brought you into it. The message was beautiful. It felt less about your partner, more about yourself, and saying “I do” to yourself. It definitely felt the most unattainable to me. Watching it made me feel I could never shop there. It felt like Vogue, Chanel. The actors were not what people look like day-to-day. I didn’t see myself in this commercial.

Karen: I wanted magazine images of that commercial. The people, the settings were just so lush and beautiful. Some of the romantic images they presented in there were very sensual and very sexy. I had a reaction to De Beers’ name being part of the commercial. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I have this sense of diamond mining and bad practices, and I didn’t want to like it, because it’s De Beers. Overall, it was really fun to watch and beautiful to look at, but it could have been a music video. I don’t know if it would make feel a certain way about purchasing from that company.

Joanna: I loved this one the most. The artistic and production value was beautiful. The production, the beauty, the music, the actors, and the jewelry pieces were outstanding. But I didn’t see myself there. [The models were] diverse, but they were very thin, perfect models. I work hard. Everybody works hard. But could they afford the level of this aesthetic from this commercial? I don’t know. I can’t.

I can see how they’re consciously modifying their message. It’s about saying “I do” to myself, and more about saying “no” than saying “yes.” So they’re trying to tweak the message a little bit about how forever could have a different meaning. It’s not “I got a diamond, I’m going to be happy forever.” It’s more about this piece of jewelry that I’m wearing or purchasing is with me and signifies me forever.

Rachel: The production value was insane. The cinematography was beautiful. I had to watch the commercial several times to digest every piece of it because it was so whimsical and beautiful. I think if I watched it through without the sound on, I wouldn’t have known it was a commercial about jewelry. I would have thought it was a perfume commercial.

It was a little bit different than the traditional engagement ring commercial. I liked that they took a step outside of the box and pushed the boundaries of what an engagement ring commercial looks like and what it means—that “I do” doesn’t mean “yes” to this person, it’s a promise to yourself. I liked that it was something different than what I usually see.

My thoughts:

This has some captivating visuals, and the voice-over has some smart things to say. But while I appreciate that it’s attempting to do something different—redefine the term “I do”—the presentation felt very familiar.

This ad was the panel’s second favorite, though, as you can see, there were provisos.

Kay Jewelers: “A Holiday Proposal

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Rachel: This was one of those typical, good old-fashioned jewelry commercials. It got the point across. It wasn’t anything superspecial. It wouldn’t have gotten my attention if it came on TV. It showed off the jewelry, it was nice and cinematic and beautiful but just didn’t feel super authentic.

Joanna: It was a basic Kay jewelry commercial. The settings are different, everything was beautifully done, but it’s the same commercial I’ve seen 100,000 times.

Chloë: It’s the commercial probably I’m going to see 20 times during the same Hallmark movie. I was just bored by it. It doesn’t make me want to shop there.

Keisha: It was just a very basic commercial that had no elements that would stand out to me. A few minutes after watching it, it would escape my memory.

Julie: I didn’t hear “Every Kiss Begins With Kay,” and I am frankly relieved.

[Note: An instrumental version of the “Every Kiss” jingle plays at the end.]

My thoughts:

With Kay, I expect the trite-and-true, which apparently works. But this ad had more potential than most. The first 12 seconds came off as standard Kay schmaltz, with the standard tinkly piano, which sadly won’t die. Then came the proposal. The couple seemed real. I liked how the neurotic proposer guy touched his forehead. Kay should keep the couple on the pier, and throw the rest in the lake.

Of all this year’s commercials, Kay was the most-recognized brand. Only the woman from Canada hadn’t heard of it, and she compared it to Peoples, which is owned by the same company.

Kendra Scott: “The Giving Gives On”  

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Keisha: Cheery and bright, but felt more like a commercial for the Gap than for jewelry. I didn’t realize it was a commercial for jewelry until the last five or six seconds when they started opening up the boxes.

Julie: The people in the video seemed accessible, in contrast to the Vogue-type models in the De Beers commercial. They seemed like the type of models you would see in Ann Taylor, Talbot, a woman clothier commercial. It seemed like a holiday commercial, but I didn’t know if Kendra Scott products were commonly gifted or they were pieces that one buys for oneself.

Natalie: I have never heard of this brand before, but from my initial viewing of the commercial, it felt very bright and colorful and fun. It made me feel like I would be welcome shopping there. It didn’t really show the jewelry enough. It was very fast at the end. By the time I was processing what they were opening, they were onto the next piece. 

Rachel: Kendra Scott is huge in Texas. They were the brand that your mom or boyfriends bought you in high school. I didn’t like how they didn’t show the jewelry until the end. The whole time they’re just showing you people who work for Kendra Scott. It felt more like a press release or a public relations video, because you’re meeting their staff. It’s not advertising the product, it’s advertising the brand itself. I didn’t resonate with that, personally.

Karen: I was a little confused about the people who were in it because their titles were things like “breast cancer survivor.” [The commercial was about] “giving.” When you buy one of these, does a gift go to someone? Is it fundraiser jewelry? That piece of it, in addition to the fast pace, really made it hard to parse out. I did like the overall feeling of it—the upbeat Christmas song, and the inclusivity of the people in it. If they were showcasing real people, that’s always cool to see. But it was not just confusing about was being sold, but what the message was. Are we giving jewelry to these women? Does this company give back? I felt really puzzled, and I wanted to Google a lot of things about it afterward.

My thoughts:

You have to respect a commercial that mentions “breast cancer” and “mental health” and is still energetic and fun. The arrangement and singing are great, and it showed lots of jewelry. And when I Googled, I discovered there is a substantial charitable element. This was my favorite ad this year.

Reeds Jewelers: “Holiday 2021”

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Karen: I liked a lot of things about this commercial. It took the idea of jewelry as “forever” and made it into more of a real-life tangible thing—whether it’s someone having a baby, or an older couple celebrating. All these little and big moments, they are worth celebrating, and maybe jewelry could be a piece of these different kinds of celebrations.

I liked how they integrated the website on the iPad, to show that you can shop online, and here’s what that experience would look like. I liked how they wove all those stories together and bookended with this idea of “together” and “trust.” It really resonated with me.

Natalie: It seemed accessible. This could be everyone’s jewelry store. Everyone is included, even kids. If you’re buying for a big milestone, like a graduation, that is where you could go. I liked how they showed the pieces up close.

Chloë: It was boring, but super palatable, and what you’d expect to see from a jewelry store ad. It didn’t seem very diverse; it was very whitewashed. There was maybe one family of color. It didn’t seem like an ad that was trying to appeal to a diverse country, like where we live.

Rachel: I enjoyed how they focused on different occasions to have jewelry for—tangible milestones and memories. They [are saying:] we’re not just engagement rings. Jewelry weaves its way into a lot of different moments in life. But they smushed so many of those moments in the commercial, it was hard to live in any of them. I wish they settled into a couple of different story lines instead of flashing through all of them so quickly.

Julie: I liked the theme of family and togetherness. That one line, about trust, implies that they could be your go-to jeweler for years. That stuck out to me.

Keisha: It was a neutral commercial that could appeal to multiple age demographics. It didn’t evoke any strong feelings, as far as love or hate. It was very Kay-esque, but I liked it more than the Kay one.

My thoughts:

When an ad is called “Holiday 2021”—the most generic title for a holiday commercial imaginable—you don’t expect it to break barriers. This doesn’t. But the affecting visuals and the upbeat music elevate it.

While many commercials last year referenced the pandemic, this was one of the few that even hinted at it, by showing salespeople wearing masks. Unlike last year, when panelists didn’t want to be reminded they live in an apocalyptic hellscape, this time, opinions were split.

“I appreciated that moment of reality,” said Karen. “It felt like they were speaking to the times we are in right now.”

Agreed Rachel: “If you’re going to make the choice to show associates in your store, just slap some masks on them. It’s being realistic about what people will see when they’re in there.”

Natalie considered the masks a selling point. “I would feel more comfortable going into a business if I saw a mask. My company requires masks, and people say they feel much safer going to us.”

On the other hand, where Julie lives, there aren’t mask mandates. The subject has become so polarized, she thought advertisers should avoid it. “Why risk alienating people?”

Canada does have mask mandates, Keisha said,  adding: “I’m pro-mask, but I would prefer not to see them for aesthetic purposes, because they gross me out. I can separate a commercial from real life.”

Swarovski: “Holiday”

 

The panel’s thoughts:

Karen: This was delightful. If you have a grandma or aunt who collects little sparkly things and keeps them on the shelves or hangs them on her tree, they might have something for her there. I wouldn’t think of them for jewelry, though.

Julie: This commercial was adorable. I could watch it again. We have Swarovski stores in the mall, I haven’t been to one lately, but I’m interested in stepping into one. I’m going to look if they have kaleidoscopes. I want to buy a crystal kaleidoscope.

Chloë: This commercial brought me back to being a kid and watching Christmas cartoons. It was really sweet. I would never have thought of buying anything from Swarovski. It made me want to Google and see what Christmas ornaments they have.

Rachel: I don’t know much about Swarovski. When it got to the end, I said, “What are they selling?” So, I was left confused but happy. It was merry and cute and everyone loves a good, happy, bubbly commercial.

Keisha: I loved this commercial. I thought it was supercute. It’s not a commercial you see every day, so it stands out because it’s novel and creative. It doesn’t fade into the background with the other commercials. If I did see a Swarovski store, this commercial would compel me to go in and check out what they have, because it left a lasting impression on me.

My thoughts:

This ad was indeed novel and fun and visually exquisite, though the second half felt a bit rushed.

This was the panel’s favorite ad this year—and judging from the comments, the most likely to bring panelists in the store.

The panel’s final thoughts:

Asked to name their favorite commercials, four panelists choose Swarovski. The De Beers ad received three votes, though even its fans found it too swanky.

The Cornell’s spot got two votes, and the Reeds and Kendra Scott ads both got a vote.

Like last year, the panelists said they didn’t watch many commercials; they mostly watch streaming TV. They did sometimes see ads on Hulu.

“I’m more heavily influenced by Instagram accounts I follow, where you can see the finished product,” says Keisha. “It feels more personal. I can reach out to them right away through direct message, and I don’t need to go to the store, I can do it from my bed.”

As in 2018, the issue of diversity came up a lot.

“A lot of the commercials were very canned, very old, very white,” said Joanna. “Life is not like that. There’s so much beauty and color. It doesn’t feel reflective. Jewelry commercials need to refresh.”

Chloë said that a lot of ads featured styles that were “really repetitive: big diamonds, simple bands, as opposed to something more interesting. I’m more into art deco.” (Joanna is, too.)

Finally, Keisha asked why there were no lab-grown diamond commercials; she’d seen some in Canada. I would have loved to include one, but I didn’t find any on YouTube worth featuring—or really many at all. This was the second year in a row that lab-grown diamonds were raised by a panelist.

My final thoughts:

I watched a lot of jewelry commercials before I settled on this lineup. These were among the best of the bunch. This year’s ads seemed to show less creativity and spark than I’ve seen in the past. One Pandora ad was called “Make special moments shine extra bright.” My hand fell asleep just typing that. Maybe the ad makers are burned out by the pandemic. Or perhaps I am. May we all move on to better.

Thanks again to the terrific panel and their excellent and thoughtful observations. I wish them all the best for their upcoming nuptials. Thanks again to the PriceScope.com community, Original Eve Fine Jewelry, and my JCK colleagues for their help bringing this group together.

And now we open the floor. What do you think?

Top: An image from De Beers’ “A Diamond Is Forever” campaign (photo courtesy of De Beers)

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By: Rob Bates

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