What Jewelry Brand Has the Best Commercials This Holiday?

Every year, I look at the jewelry commercials airing around the holidays. This year, I wanted to do something different, so I recruited a crew of advertising experts and professionals to weigh in on ads from Zale, Kay, Jared, Forevermark, and Helzberg Diamonds. While their comments are often frank, I hope that some of their thoughts can possibly lead to a broader discussion of different ways our industry can reach out to consumers. 

Our panel is: 

Adam O’Leary is president of Encite Marketing, a Denver-based marketing firm that focuses on small business. 

Mike Sprouse is president and CEO of Sprouse Marketing Group, a Chicago-based marketing boutique that helps large brands with advertising campaigns.

Patti Minglin is the founder of Go Girl CommunicEations, a sales and marketing consulting company that specializes in marketing to women.

Denise Blasevick is the CEO of Boonton, N.J.–based S3 Agency, an advertising, public relations, and social media firm.

Jenny Ford is the author of The Marketing Prom and consultant for 921 Media.

Tom Geary is the partner and creative director at San Francisco agency School of Thought.

Frank O’Brien is the founder of New York City–based marketing and advertising agency Conversation

And finally, I will weigh in, despite my only qualification: having watched a lot of television. 

 1. Zales “Balloons 


O’Leary: The opening shot really did grab my attention as I immediately was wondering where the man was taking these balloons and who they were for. I also felt a sense of compassion for him as he was having a hard time traveling with these balloons, which implied to me that the destination or the person to whom he was giving them to was very special. The over-the-top proposal is a pretty common theme, but they did a great job making it their own while capturing the attention of the audience.… The end of the spot shows different Zales products, which are different and special, keeping with the message. 

Minglin: What I love about this spot is it is beautifully shot and the music pulls you into the story—I could see this being very effective for the target demographic of Gen-Y women. I also like that we see her saying “yes” before she even sees the ring—showing that love is more than just jewelry.  Having said that, it is an ad for a jewelry company and could probably showcase the product better.

Sprouse: This had a very Say Anything (the ’80s movie) element to it with the man outside the woman’s window with balloons and an engagement ring. A lot of points for the romantic quality. High on shock value (running through a city with balloons). The best in terms of entertainment value because you want to see how it is going to end.

Blasevick: Strong concept with great execution—this is a romance story shot cinematic style that captures your attention and makes you want to watch for the full minute. The music, the visuals, the lack of dialogue that make you focus—this makes you feel, and creating that emotional response is the strongest bond a brand can make with consumers. So despite the fact that the Zales branding doesn’t come in until the very end, it’s memorable. In fact, rather than interrupt this gorgeous mini-movie and jar me out of the moment, it waits until it’s over and serves as the premium exclamation point at the end of this statement about beauty, quality, and permanent commitment—making me believe this brand understands and offers it all…. The only potential negative: This could be construed as a category ad vs. a brand builder if viewers don’t make it to the very end to see the Zales branding. Luckily it’s such an amazing spot that they most likely will. Bravo. 

Ford: The Zales commercial is great example of what marketing should be, as it invokes an emotion in the viewer…. When a lot of men think of the “perfect proposal,” they assume that it must be a grand event that is perfectly planned. This commercial exemplifies that the thought is, in fact, what matters, and a woman can truly appreciate the simpler things. The only thing I would change: I wouldn’t pitch one particular product over the others, I would provide an array to further emphasize the point that Zales has a product for everyone within every budget. 

O’Brien: This commercial seems a little cliché. Visually it is very well-done, as the contrast of the balloon colors against the gray backdrop catches the viewer’s attention. 

Geary: This is by far the best of the lot. There’s a story that’s being told. It’s well photographed—actually charming—to see this guy packed into the subway with the balloons. All of those factors affect whether I want to stay engaged. That’s the good news. Halfway through, we all want to see the big reveal. But then, it was a bit of a disappointment. (Dare I say, the balloons burst?) Where was the amazing twist?  Where was the clever use of the balloons? I wanted to see any use of the balloons. Not the best proposal ever, which means, it wasn’t the best commercial ever.  

My thoughts: This is one of two commercials that got mostly positive reviews from our panel. The ending is surely effective, and that actress does a pretty convincing job of crying. And, of course, the music works great, and Zale has even taken to boasting about its very hip music choices to investors. All in all, this is the best Zales ad I’ve seen in the four years I’ve been doing this feature.

2. Kay Jewelers’ “Charmed Memories”

O’Leary: I really liked the fact they focused on a different demographic and a different product. [But] I thought this spot was pretty ordinary and didn’t capture my attention right away. During the holidays, there are many TV spots that begin in the home and try to capture the family emotions that are common this time of year.  

Sprouse: The premise of the story was good, but they failed in some respects by not developing the story. An old stodgy couple complaining that the old days of being romantic are gone because of technology, followed by a romantic gesture and gift. It just didn’t develop quite right. 

Minglin: I like the diversity in this spot—not just in showcasing an African-American family, but in showing children, young adults, and grandparents being together. While I like the idea of jewelry being a gift you don’t have to “plug into” (a trend I am predicting for all categories in 2014), I don’t think the spot showcases the unique quality of the product. I would like to have seen a little background on why he chose the charms he did for her: perhaps having a conversation about special things they have shared or things she particularly loves culminating in the gift that includes charms for those special moments. Pandora has always done a great job of this.  

Blasevick: This is a run-of-the-mill ad for what feels like a run-of-the-mill product offering…. This isn’t about elevating the brand, it’s about making sure mass viewers know that you can afford to buy something this Christmas (starting at $19.99) at Kay. The takeaway: Come here for everyday jewelry gifts. But if I’m looking for something special, I’m not going to Kay. I’m also not sitting through this commercial the next time it comes on—it just has no repeat entertainment value. 

Ford: This commercial was a great way of showing diversity with their use of an African-American family and generational perception…. The “Internets” comment was a great use of humor to engage the audience. I was fully expecting the gift to turn into a proposal, but there was a clever switch to show the charm bracelet being given as a gift.  

O’Brien:  This commercial is very direct. There is a comedic aspect, which appeals to the male demographic, and the fact that Christmas is obviously being celebrated suggests a sense of immediacy. This, in addition to the prices being displayed, encourages action, which can be very effective when considering those last-minute runs to the jewelry store by husbands and boyfriends. 

Geary: I think Kay makes a mistake, very common, of trying to be all things to all people. Is this a commercial for the men or the women? Because right now, it’s succeeding at connecting with neither.

My thoughts: Usually when I do these wrap-ups, I express reservations about Kay commercials, but add that they must work because a) they keep bringing them back, and b) the chain is doing quite well. And by the standards of most Kay ads, this was actually pretty daring and different. Still, while I like the message that “jewelry is a more enduring/meaningful gift than a gadget,” the old man’s complaints could have been rendered a little more artfully and believably. Finally, Kay really should be thinking about repeatability for its ads, since they tend to air so often during the holidays.

3. Jared’s  “Airline Proposal

NOTE: We are having trouble embedding this one. It can be seen here and here.

Minglin: Not a fan of this spot at all. You are not pulled into any story at all, which makes it hard for women to feel connected to the characters and to the concept overall. I do think it showcases the product well and does a nice job of describing the “design your own” idea.  

Sprouse: The execution was a little cheesy and clunky. It’s not all that effective to me. They’re trying to introduce humor and lightheartedness which isn’t bad, but it just didn’t quite work for me. It doesn’t tug at anyone’s heartstrings and doesn’t tell a story.

O’Leary: I think the common wedding proposal is overused and ordinary.… Using the plane setting was a good attempt at a new twist on the idea, but didn’t make me want to watch it more. 

Blasevick: This commercial feels forced from the time it starts until it’s over, which can’t come soon enough for me. However, it is the only one of these five that really focuses on the diamonds. The short skit intro and outro are so painfully bad that it takes away from the product-focused meat of the ad. As far as the skits go, it’s hard to understand what the heck the flight attendant is saying, the situation doesn’t feel romantic or realistic, and it borders on distasteful when the airline attendant says, “Please return your fiancé to her upright position.” 

Ford: This commercial was lackluster [and] lacked a true storyboard. A public proposal in general tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, but there was nothing about this commercial that screams, “Jared’s knows love and I HAVE to get my ring from there!” You could have subbed in any other jewelry brand, and it would have had the same effect. The actual advertising portion of the commercial just doesn’t correlate to the airline proposal. There are so many unanswered questions, like, Why the plane? Was he flying too? Why not wait until you got to your destination? Your audience wants to be able to envision the scenario.

O’Brien: Once again, we see a comedic aspect, as is commonly the case for Jared commercials. They are clearly meant to appeal to men. The “He went to Jared” tagline also gives the campaign differentiation, which is significant because most jewelry commercials tend to follow a similar pattern, which can prove ineffective when trying to appeal to men. 

Geary: The acting is poor. And to have the flight attendant drop the name of the product, as if the entire plane (and audience) is on pins and needles about whether this is a ring from Jared…. Generally speaking, I don’t like to have the characters directly shilling the product. Rather, they should set up the problem, the need, or the opportunity—and then we can have the announcer or titles at the end doing the direct sell. Crossing the line makes the audience tune out.  

My thoughts: First off, let me repeat what I said about Kay’s ads with regards to Jared, which is owned by the same company. That said, this ad did not go over big with our panel, nor particularly with me, and I agree the rather lengthy sales pitch was mostly divorced from the action. With people turning to YouTube to see proposals like this, commercials built around engagements need to up their game and be a little more creative. (I could watch that linked video endlessly. Not so, this one.)

4. Forevermark’s  “The Center of My Universe”


O’Leary: Wow! This commercial captures the attention immediately. Marketing is about storytelling, and this spot tells a story that is compelling and powerful.…  Men tend to take their partner for granted and don’t realize how much they do, how important they are, and how much they mean to us. This spot focuses on that message and reminds men that they are lucky enough to have the woman in their life. And it is the most innovative of all them mostly because of the message, but the settings are eye-catching, especially the Japanese lanterns and shot of the woman lying in bed. 

Sprouse: This was the second most entertaining of the bunch, but the real effectiveness is because it was the best produced, and the narration really worked. It was the best in terms of telling a story, a really heartfelt timeline of life’s major events and how exquisite jewelry plays a role in that. It was especially noteworthy that the narrator was a man, as I expect this is the ad that most men AND women would gravitate toward.

Minglin: LOVE this one. It tells such a great story of love—taking the viewer beyond the engagement/wedding moment and showing how truly valuable and special a real relationship can be. Every woman hopes her significant other sees her in this way—especially if they have been together for a significant amount of time. I also like that in almost every shot, we see a glimmer of diamond. It is a subtle way of showcasing the product in the midst of a really great story. I also think they do a nice job of talking about the product at the end—telling exactly why this diamond is so special. The tagline is great: The diamond. The promise. 

Blasevick I appreciate that the branding waits until the emotional connection has been created—you feel this couple’s love from both sides; you believe that the jewelry he is giving her has been carefully chosen from a good brand to properly reflect this amazing relationship; you want to know what type of diamond this is…. Then the explanation of what makes this diamond better is completely credible.  

Ford: This commercial was great for capturing the audience’s emotions. The product presentation is spectacular and captures several different relationships and provides options. Well done. 

Geary: Some of the shots were pretty nice. I think the actress is a little too perfect in the shots. I wanted to see a little more real person, a little less stylized. Does she really look like this in the morning?  Does anyone? I’m assuming the spot is not intended to connect with men, as I don’t think it would succeed. I did like the last 10 seconds. Good call to note responsibly sourced diamonds.   

My thoughts: This is the other ad that received almost all positive reviews. And it’s probably no coincidence that this spot, as well as the Zale one, also seemed to have the highest production values. My only critique here is perhaps they should have had more “at home” moments, to make it more relatable to consumers. Most couples don’t spend their lives on the beach.

5. Helzberg Diamonds’ “Loved


O’Leary: Great spot! I think it departs from typical jewelry commercial by using real people speaking about real situations in their lives (even though they may be actors, they come off as real). I think people can relate to the small things partners do for each other and could even provide some suggestions for people to implement in their own lives. 

Sprouse: Really good concept, with the male/female back and forth and interview concept. It seems very real and would seem to the viewer that these are not actors. So being believable is a very strong quality with this one, and the way they put little real-life pieces in there, like cleaning the bathtub. But it doesn’t score well for romantic value, and is probably a bit too short for the spot to execute on the promise of the concept itself. 

Minglin: I’m not buying that these are real people. I would think that real people would have more unique answers to the question “How do you know you’re loved?” I think women would have a difficult time connecting with these people and with the stories they share—there don’t seem to be any personal details behind them, and the giving of jewelry is a very personal thing. Again with the customized charm bracelet, the spot doesn’t do a good job of showcasing the unique selling point. With this one, you don’t even see the multitude of charms you could choose (like you do with Kay).

Blasevick: Is this an ad for a dating site? Is this a weird focus group? By the time the product briefly flashes on-screen and the branding comes on, I’m completely lost. I appreciate the brand attempting to use real people (or actors playing real people), but the concept is way off base. I understand that this brand is going for approachability, but jewelry should always feel special. It almost feels like the brand doesn’t want you to see the product, that’s how little time is spent on it. 

Ford: I love this commercial. From a consumer level, I can totally relate because I’m married, and I enjoy seeing my understanding of how love is TRULY unconventional being portrayed. The individuals in the commercials don’t appear to be actors, so this increases their relatability and makes the commercial memorable. 

O’Brien: Similar to the Kay commercial, this Helzberg commercial displays a lower price point while targeting the male demographic. Once again a comedic element is introduced, but ultimately the commercial fails because it is hard to remember what the brand actually is. 

Geary: Helzberg Diamonds’ strategy was good, but the execution was poor. The strategy was to be real, to show people talking about love, genuinely. The problem is, I think they hired poor actors to portray real people. Perhaps these were real people. If so, that’s a very, very difficult thing to do. At our agency, we do many projects with “civilians,” as I call them, and 98 percent of the takes are terrible, as the production, cameras, and crew distract them. A great documentary filmmaker (and many, many takes) is the only solve. Think about the beginning and end of When Harry Met Sally. Real people, sitting on the couch, talking about their relationships. That felt real, because it was painstakingly filmed and produced, probably over the course of weeks. In short, Helzberg’s heart was there. But, like any relationship, that’s not always enough. 

My thoughts: This ad drew the most mixed reaction from the group, with panelists even split on how “real” the couples came off. (They seemed real to me, definitely more so than those couples you see in the dating-site ads.) I agree it is a great concept that has potential, but I’m not sure it’s completely realized, or fully linked to Helzberg.

That’s it. While I enjoyed most of these ads, the industry is struggling with its usual problem: Its advertising all seems the same. I know it’s for the same product. But must it all use the same techniques?

Says O’Brien:“We find that the issue regarding jewelry commercials, as a whole, is that there is very little differentiation between the different companies and their advertising tactics. Each commercial follows one of two formulas: evoking emotion to appeal to women or employing comedy to appeal to men. This sets a dangerous precedent, as it can confuse the consumer, who ultimately may remember the commercial, but not the brand the commercial was advertising.”

Something to ponder. Thanks to the panelists for some great contributions! What do you think?       

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