Saving the Luxury Brand

Deborah Scarpa believes in the power of the brand. She preaches it with gusto. She sells it with passion. And she backs her words with action.

During the past year, when other advertising agencies were either cutting their staffs or closing, Scarpa, founder and president of DJS Advertising & Marketing, a Miami-based firm specializing in luxury markets, went on a hiring blitz. “And I’m still down staff,” she says.

During the past year, when luxury goods retailers, designers, and manufacturers were cutting their advertising and marketing budgets, Scarpa launched a multimedia advertising and marketing campaign—not for her clients, but to promote the new DJS: “The Global Branding Advertising Agency.”

“My time.” Scarpa has always thought big. In 1984, Irving Getz, founder and president of Mayors Jewelers, hired Scarpa as marketing director. Scarpa credits him with teaching her the proper way to create a brand for a luxury business. “He was a genius,” she says. “He knew how to brand a store.”

Three years later she founded DJS Marketing in her living room. Sixteen years after that, she has offices in the Miami area—and a rapidly expanding staff. About 60% of her international clientele is in the fine-jewelry industry. Companies such as Cellini Jewelers, Barron’s, and Seymour Gail Jewelry as well as organizations like the World Gold Council.

Scarpa says she’s poised to take on large consumer brands and a more diversified clientele.

“This is my time,” she says—in brazen defiance of the economic woes of the past few years. “Our economy is challenging,” she acknowledges. But the reaction of her peers in the advertising business and of many luxury jewelers is exactly wrong, she says.

“It is not individual businesses that are failing, but entire industries that are paying the price for not changing in today’s constantly evolving marketplace,” Scarpa asserts. “In the present arena, effective marketing—including advertising and public relations—is the lifeline that keeps businesses healthy. This lifeline is crucial to the well-being and longevity of companies today that would also like to be the companies of tomorrow.”

Tragedy and emotion. Scarpa sees 9/11 as a turning point in the luxury market—and notes that luxury brands must be able to react to the new consumer attitude. Seasonal purchasers, she says, are a thing of the past: Jewelry is a product that can be sold year-round and not just for some occasion or season. And she urges the jewelry industry to do a better job at selling emotion.

“In advertising, strong creative [ad banners and other forms of created advertising] is the first step in touching your target audience and creating your brand identity,” she says. “There are serious problems in the jewelry industry because most people show the product big on a white-or-black background with their logo huge. In the ’90s it worked. Business was robust. And there was plenty of market share.

“After 9/11 it all changed,” she says. “In the past we waited till the fourth quarter and enjoyed increases in volume, but I don’t think that’s going to assist us in the long run. I think people need to buy jewelry for no reason at all because emotionally they need to express themselves. Each moment is important to us, now more than ever. People feel a sense of urgency to live their lives to the fullest.”

Creative discipline. The focus of the new DJS is a 10-step marketing and advertising strategy with the goal of creating a distinctive brand and making sure the brand is as recognizable as “your own friend.”

“A brand is more than a product or service,” Scarpa says. “A consumer must recognize your brand the same as he or she would recognize your face. A consumer must know your brand’s unique personality in order to feel trust. This is the essence of branding.”

Her strategy, she says, is both creative and disciplined. “The discipline in advertising is that you get a compelling message. You need clear strategic thinking. It’s not brain surgery, but it requires a proper methodology.”

That methodology includes establishing an objective and collecting and analyzing data. With this information, a marketing plan is developed. With this plan in hand, creativity takes over and the message begins to take shape.

The question of how best to present the message is the next step in the process—for example, determining what type of media will be used to deliver the message. Then, the challenge is to develop an integrated concept—that is, executing the message based on budget and production restrictions.

“We make sure the message is clear,” she says. “We speak with one voice, not 20. And we communicate the advertising via other communication disciplines [such as p.r. and editorial].”

Tracking how the message is affecting sales is the final step in the process, Scarpa says. “We watch the numbers. We look at them and we want to make sure the barometer is being met.”

Surviving consumer change. In addition to reaching out to larger clients, Scarpa says she is determined to attract clients who understand the importance of what she is trying to convey in her new strategy.

“I’m not for everyone, I’ll tell you that right now,” she says. “We want to entice the people who really understand the concept of branding, who want to say more in advertising other than, ‘We have a pretty product.’ And we believe this is where the growth is, and this is what we’re focusing on. We have recast ourselves as a style agency. Many products want to have style.”

While her concept may not be for everyone, Scarpa believes the industry needs to find better ways to develop brands and cater to consumers’ changing needs.

“The whole sensibility of luxury has changed,” she insists. “I think it’s almost vulgar that people buy jewelry to aggrandize themselves. Emotionally, I think, people will buy jewelry across the board. July was a pretty good month for some of the larger retail chains. We should promote that vigorously. Jewelry should be for expressing yourself on a day-to-day basis.”

In fact, Scarpa says, new branding strategies may make a difference in the survival of luxury jewelers.

“Right now the people who really understand branding are the ones who are going to survive,” she says. “There’s too much choice out there. You’ve got to bring home your identity. You have to define yourself in today’s world. If not, you’ll perish.”