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For Cartier, Love Is a Battlefield

With Tiffany’s LVMH-backed reboot making a splash, Cartier is trying to hit back with its own holiday push. Here’s what the campaign says about the Paris-based jewellery giant’s strategy.
Singers Troye Sivian and Willow Smith are featured in Cartier's "Love is All" campaign. Cartier.
Singers Troye Sivan and Willow Smith are featured in Cartier's end-of-year campaign, "Love is All". Cartier. (Cartier)

Can a brand “own” the idea of love? The world’s biggest luxury jewellery house thinks so.

Paris-based Cartier, whose “Love” collection of bracelets and rings are among its most popular items, launched its holiday campaign this week, and is allocating an unprecedented budget to make sure consumers take notice.

The ads, which hit social channels Tuesday (including, for the first time, TikTok), are built around a singalong to Roger Glover’s 1974 pop-rock hit “Love is All.” An international cast of famous faces, including actress Lily Collins and K-Pop superstar Jackson Wang, smile and sing in boxy spaces that suggest gift packaging, as well as evoking an implied message of putting the pandemic’s isolation behind us.

The campaign’s use of familiar tunes and faces to conjure a vague, cheerful holiday vibe is hardly groundbreaking. But Christmas comes with unusually high stakes this year. The marketing splash needs to help Cartier scoop up its share of what is expected to be a record-breaking season for holiday sales. Its efforts will face higher scrutiny due to rising competition from rival Tiffany & Co., which has come out guns blazing during its first year under new owner LVMH.

And just as Tiffany leans on its signature blue, Cartier is doubling down on its deep-red packaging and iconic lines, which over the decades have grown into widely-recognised symbols of love. In addition to the best-selling “Love” bracelets, signature pieces also include Cartier’s Juste Un Clou (“Just a Nail”) line (evoking loving attachment) and interlocking Trinity rings (loving interconnection).

“It is part of our DNA. If you look at our history, our values, they are directly associated with love,” Cartier’s chief marketing officer Arnaud Carrez said. “There is no ambiguity about that in consumers’ minds.”

Lily Collins wears jewellery from Cartier's "Clash" collection for the brand's 2021 holiday campaign. Cartier.

While many jewellery brands compete on the idea of romance, Cartier has carved out its dominant position in part by broadening its definition of love to include parents and children, siblings, and friends. That’s not to mention gestures of self-love as consumers have rapidly become more comfortable buying jewellery for themselves.

The brand is expected to generate sales of €7.4 billion ($8.5 billion), growing 29 percent year-on-year, according to HSBC estimates. That’s about 70 percent bigger than Tiffany, which is forecast to sell €4.3 billion of products this year. (Neither Cartier’s owner Richemont, nor Tiffany-owner LVMH report sales for individual units).

But competition in the luxury jewellery sector is heating up, as LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault is expected to invest heavily in scaling up the Tiffany brand, an iconic name whose business has struggled to keep pace with its European competitors.

LVMH has installed a new management team, appointing former Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke as chairman and his former deputy Anthony Ledru as CEO. Bernard Arnault’s son Alexandre, who previously worked on revamping luggage brand Rimowa, has been named vice-president for marketing and product. Under this new management, the brand has moved swiftly to promote a more culturally relevant, high-end image.

The new Tiffany team’s first major campaign was an August video starring American music royalty Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Jay-Z was styled to look like the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat as he photographed Beyoncé wearing more than 200 carats of precious stones including the legendary Tiffany Diamond, one of the largest yellow diamonds ever found. Some found the Basquiat cosplay in the video to be cheesy, or even exploitative, but that hint of controversy seems to have only added to the buzz.

The blockbuster campaign was titled “About Love.” While the Tiffany’s clear association with weddings and romance made that unsurprising to consumers, the choice of language encroached on its Paris rival’s historic terrain.

Tiffany declined a request for comment. Cartier said its campaign was aimed at marking its territory regarding the theme of love, but declined to comment directly on the mounting challenge from Tiffany.

So far, Tiffany’s money moves haven’t stopped Cartier’s roll. Richemont reported six-month financial results that beat estimates last week. Sales in the jewellery unit, which is dominated by Cartier, rose 67 percent year-on-year, and 36 percent ahead of 2019′s pre-pandemic levels.

Actor Timothee Chalamet was dripping in Cartier jewels throughout the Cannes Film Festival. Getty.

But even as sales boom, there are some signs Cartier’s brand image could be losing momentum compared to peers. In April, Kantar’s Brand Z consultancy said Cartier’s brand value was up 3 percent versus the previous year, compared to an average increase of 34 percent for the top 10 luxury brands.

“We’re well aware we are evolving in a competitive environment,” Carrez said. Cartier is increasing its publicity budget for “pretty much on everything,” he added. The holiday ad spend is being directed everywhere from outdoor digital displays to cinemas and social media platforms.

The brand’s holiday campaign is part of a wider push to keep expanding sales of the brand’s most popular items while also cultivating a more nuanced and diverse brand story.

With men’s interest in jewellery on the rise, Cartier is adding more of them to its roster of ambassadors— in addition to the Hong-Kong born rapper Wang, Australian singer Troye Sivan appears in the campaign. Timothee Chalamet signed on with the brand too late to make the shoot. But in July, the “Dune” and “French Dispatch” heartthrob made a splash when he stepped out on the Cannes red carpet dripping in Cartier jewellery.

The company introduced a revamped leather-goods range this year, Double C, fronted by Lily Collins, as well as adding to its perfume line-up with a fragrance called Rivieres. The brand has struggled to gain traction in these categories in the past and they generate only a fraction of sales, but the launches give Cartier a chance to show something new to consumers. They also demand far less capital than stocking their boutiques with a new watch or jewellery range.

Cartier's 2021 launches outside of jewellery include a revamped handbag range, Double C, and a perfume, Rivieres. Cartier.

Elsewhere, Cartier is seizing the chance to promote its name through prestigious events (it’s underwriting the Venice Film Festival from this year) and corporate responsibility initiatives like staging a massive pavilion dedicated to women’s empowerment during the Dubai Expo 2020 which opened last month.

The big spending equates to “investing in line with our status as one of the biggest luxury brands in the world,” Carrez said.

Indeed, the moves are likely less about competing directly with Tiffany than about seizing as much market share as possible from the largely untapped market for luxury jewellery brands. As much as 80 percent of the jewellery market remains unbranded, according to McKinsey, with consumers remembering where they bought an item but rarely who made it. That leaves a wide path for global names to convert new shoppers.

And of course, luxury jewellery isn’t just about expressions of love; it’s about expressing status with exclusive, recognizable items. That’s one thing Cartier has in spades.

“You’ve had a lot of wealth creation lately,” HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg said. “If you’re a first-time purchaser you want to get it right, so you go to recognisable products.”

That means it “isn’t either-or” in the race between Cartier and Tiffany. “Both can thrive,” Rambourg said.

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholder’s documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.

Related Articles:

Richemont Under Pressure

LVMH’s Tiffany Is on the Right Track

BoF and McKinsey, The State of Fashion 2021: Watches and Jewellery

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