Going Platinum

Becoming engaged isn’t a single moment in time, but rather one part of a series of moments that make up a couple’s relationship.

So says recent consumer research conducted by Platinum Guild International. This research, combined with a desire to encourage couples to start thinking sooner about their wedding-band purchases, is the backbone of PGI’s new global consumer advertising campaign, breaking in the United States this winter and spring in three key bridal publications: Modern Bride; InStyle Weddings; and, in a first for PGI, Martha Stewart Weddings. Other bridal, fashion, and lifestyle publications are slated to carry the ads later in the year.

PGI’s research, conducted in 2005 by The Wright Group, was the first step in the evolution of its advertising. Its most recent ad campaign focused on “pure, rare, eternal” as attributes of the metal. The new campaign focuses on how the metal has become a metaphor for attainment: “platinum” credit cards, “platinum-level” status in frequent-flyer clubs, and “going platinum” when sales of record albums or CDs reach 1 million. It ties the concept into the couple’s highest attainment of their love. In fact, “gone platinum,” a phrase everyone of the rock ‘n’ roll generation can relate to, is the main theme of the new campaign, whose tag line is “Your love has just gone platinum.”

Turning up the romance a few notches from the “pure, rare, eternal” message, the new campaign’s primary audience is women ages 18–34 who are in a serious relationship and planning to get married. Its secondary audience is men ages 25–34, also in a relationship headed for marriage.

“It excites me, the idea of tapping into platinum as the highest standard and saying that your love has reached that culturally reinforced highest standard,” says Huw Daniel, president of PGI USA.

The concept of evolving love is a trend in the air, so to speak. Interestingly, JCK got an off-the-record sneak peek at the new Diamond Trading Company diamond product campaign coming in early 2006, which—unbeknown to PGI—grew out of another consumer study that produced similar findings about how couples view their relationships as a series of moments that grows over time. The same theme of an individual relationship attaining ever-increasing levels of importance and commitment ran through both studies and will play a key role in both organizations’ advertising and product promotions in 2006. (JCK will report on DTC’s plans in a later issue.)

PGI’s “pure, rare, eternal” campaign, produced at a time when platinum, while still costly, hadn’t hit its record highs, was designed to both build the brand message of platinum on a global level and to position it as the premier bridal metal. That message was focused on the moment of engagement, said Michael O’Connor, senior vice president of PGI USA. But the new research, gleaned from couples who were either recently engaged or on the verge of becoming formally engaged, showed that a couple will arrive at the same conclusion (i.e., that they want to be married) via different paths. They each understand that their relationship contains an element of closeness they won’t have with anyone else in the world, but the male feels enormous pressure of the moment.

“The proposal is the only thing they ‘own’ [in the bridal experience],” explained O’Connor. Plus, today’s bride-to-be is far more vocal about her preferences for a ring than earlier generations of women were.

The entire proposal process is, in fact, a very controlled dance, O’Connor said. The woman wants influence in the ring selection but wants to be surprised. She knows the proposal is coming—but not exactly when or where. The man wants information about her preferences—but not too much—he still wants to feel “in control” of the process. O’Connor said it was interesting to observe the dynamics in the PGI focus groups, because when any of the men heard that a fellow male participant had already begun ring shopping, they pounced on him for advice. The man wants information, but he doesn’t want to be “sold to,” and he doesn’t want lots of romantic language in the presentation, either.

To that end, PGI has created a special Web site called engagementguide.com, which is pinpointed to the moment that the male needs “real” buying information. It is a total buying guide, including a section on how to buy a diamond. PGI’s existing site, www.preciousplatinum.com, is still online, continuing the “pure, rare, eternal” message in a venue more romantic than the new site.

Antonia Caamano, PGI manager of public relations, says the new site not only has had record-breaking hits but also holds some viewers for eight or more minutes, rare for an informational Web site.

The campaign’s black-and-white photography (by noted photographer Peggy Sirota) also resonates with consumers as classic, elegant, and Old World in the sense of lasting and eternal, says O’Connor. The imagery is romantic but real; something consumers can easily project themselves into. For first-half 2006 it will feature eight designers’ and manufacturers’ rings in the ads; the second half will feature 18.

But the most important element of the new campaign is to ramp up the focus on buying three rings, not one. According to PGI research, most women do want their engagement ring to match their wedding band, and most couples want their wedding bands to match each other. This necessitates putting more thought into all three rings at the outset, rather than leaving the purchase of the wedding ring to the last minute—after most of the wedding budget has been spent.

“The engagement ring seals the deal, but the wedding band is the real symbol of commitment,” says O’Connor. Retailers are not taking advantage of the engagement-ring purchase as the opportunity to build a lifetime customer, he added, citing research from TheKnot.com that showed many bridal customers were disappointed with their jewelry shopping experiences (including not being shown any platinum unless they asked). The jeweler should call the groom after the engagement-ring sale and offer congratulations and help in selecting their wedding bands, he says, pointing out that once a jeweler knows a couple’s wedding date, he or she also knows their anniversary.

O’Connor also cited Fairchild Bridal Group research showing that 84 percent of women ask for platinum bridal rings, but the actual acquisition rate is much lower. This disparity isn’t new news—it’s what PGI already dubbed “the platinum opportunity” some time ago, and it’s a gap they’re obviously hoping to close. To address that, any retailers tagged in the new PGI bridal ads will be fully armed and trained, and better equipped to complete the sale.

Michelle Peranteau, manager of marketing communications, says PGI’s training will help retailers learn to tap into the emotion and get away from price, to convert the value concept into a sale.

Caamano urges retailers to understand that platinum bridal customers aren’t a passive, window-shopping audience. They’re actively shopping, looking for information, and are ready to trade up to platinum.

“If you give the information, it will work. It’s kind of like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”