The Instagram posts and advertisements plastered across scaffolding up and down Manhattan couldn’t be clearer: this is “not your mother’s Tiffany.” Now, the 184-year-old brand has to show the world what it is instead.
It’s the $16 billion question facing LVMH, which in January acquired the jeweller in the largest-ever luxury acquisition. Tiffany’s new owner said that it plans to overhaul the brand’s image, but has kept details under wraps, installing new leadership and rolling out a few new products but otherwise keeping the brand more or less as-is.
“Not your mother’s Tiffany,” which debuted in July, was among the first public indications of a new chapter. The campaign tackles the brand’s strengths and weaknesses head-on: namely that its signature colour and links to mid-century pop culture figures like Audrey Hepburn have, for decades, compelled people to buy engagement rings and sterling silver necklaces. But those brand signatures aren’t resonating as strongly with young consumers.
The campaign, promoting Tiffany’s line of $2,600 sterling silver chain link lock necklaces and $1,575 bracelets, features models dressed casually in denim and tank tops, their hair and makeup artfully unstyled, staring down the camera against a plain studio backdrop. Alternate taglines include “this ain’t no old school,” “tell us again silver’s dated … we dare you” and “maybe it was cool back in the day; maybe mother knows best,” flung up along scaffolding, guerilla-style, in Los Angeles and New York.
Some loyal customers questioned whether the brand needed to ditch the Tiffany blue at all.
Out of 20 posts to Tiffany’s Instagram feed that used the #NotYourMothersTiffany hashtag, the images that received the most likes stuck closest to the brand’s old approach, with images of the jewellery itself.
“Great model but I have other stores when I want edgy,” one commenter wrote in a post published to the brand’s Instagram profile July 12. “When I turn to Tiffany’s, I do want grandma Audrey Hepburn Tiffany’s.”
That sort of commentary underscores LVMH and Tiffany’s conundrum: how does a brand steeped in tradition appeal to a new generation of consumers without alienating their existing shoppers?
“The very polarisation of the [Tiffany] campaign strikes at the heart of the dynamic of uniqueness and belonging,” said Rebecca Robins, Interbrand global chief learning and culture officer. “As a campaign, it has resulted in backlash from generations of loyal customers. What it signals is a wider intent by LVMH.” To be sure, this campaign is but one step forward rather than where Tiffany plans to stake its entire marketing strategy.
More changes are in the works. Tiffany plans to release additional, larger-scale campaigns in September and October that include new celebrity ambassadors.
“Our marketing approach moving forward will continue to speak to our loyal and very diversified customer base while appealing to a wider set of new individuals and connecting with them where they are,” the company said in a statement. “Clients and future clients will see this strategy come to life as we roll it out in the coming months.
A controversial rebranding would be straight out of LVMH’s playbook. The conglomerate has a history of dramatic shakeups to its portfolio of luxury labels, whether it’s Marc Jacobs’ time at Louis Vuitton, Hedi Slimane’s 180-degree turn away from Phoebe Philo’s Celine, Matthew Williams’ revamp of Givenchy or Alexandre Arnault’s transformation of Rimowa. (Arnault is now executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany, where he’s responsible for reviving the brand’s image.) Although LVMH purchased Tiffany in part to tap the brand’s heritage, a sudden, stark shift from a label’s usual way of doing business makes it clear to consumers what the brand is all about. When done well, it also condenses any growing pains into a few short months — not a concern for LVMH, which tends to plot strategy for its brand in terms of years and decades.
Still, Tiffany may have needlessly alienated traditionalists with its cheeky hashtags, said Rosanna Giacalone, founder and president of luxury marketing firm La Vita É Bella.
“It’s visually appealing and it shows how a Millennial or Gen Z would be wearing their Tiffany, which is very different than perhaps their mother or their grandmother,” she said. “It did it in a way that was far more provocative for their broad base than they should have.”
Giacalone compared the campaign to LVMH’s efforts to sell Bulgari to a younger demographic. That brand tapped celebrities such as the actress Zendaya and the popstar Lisa of Blackpink in June in a clear effort to appeal to Gen Z, but didn’t explicitly tell customers what it was doing, she said.
Tiffany’s ads also broke with another tradition in fine jewellery marketing, where the mother-daughter relationship is frequently celebrated. In April, for example, Bulgari released its Mother’s Day campaign, “A Mother’s Legacy” with Melanie Griffith, daughter Stella Banderas and Vanessa and Natalia Bryant. A month later, Chanel released its own Mother’s Day campaign for its Coco Crush fine jewellery, featuring its own cast of mothers with their children.
A clean break from the old way of marketing Tiffany may actually be useful. According to Interbrand, Tiffany is ranked 94th among its top 100 brands, down from 66 in 2015. Since at least 2018, Tiffany has actively tried to steer its marketing efforts towards a younger consumer while doubling down on its heritage. In a campaign with actress Elle Fanning, the brand commissioned musician ASAP Ferg to remix the 1961 song “Moon River,” the theme to the Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the first time Tiffany & Co. acknowledged the film in an official capacity.
Now, the jewellery giant is attempting to appeal to younger shoppers — and not simply for occasion pieces — while restoring its broader brand appeal and taking its margin-rich silver business upmarket.
LVMH needs Tiffany to succeed not only to justify the acquisition price but also to take on Richemont, which has a commanding position in the hard luxury business, anchored by brands like Cartier. In January, before the LVMH acquisition went into effect, Tiffany reported its net sales increased two percent during the 2020 holiday period compared to the year before, although the brand’s sales declined in the Americas and Europe. In March 2020, the company reported 2019 full-year results that noted global net sales were unchanged at $4.4 billion from the year prior, with comparable sales down one percent.
A challenge for these heritage brands, whenever they try to get too cool, they end up alienating some of their core base. It’s a fine line one has to walk … you can’t just get cool.
In addition to Alexandre Arnault, LVMH appointed Anthony Ledru chief executive of the jewellery brand, Ruba Abu-Nimah, previously at Revlon, as creative director. At Rimowa, Arnault is credited with implementing successful, hype-driven brand collaborations and updating the brand’s visual identity.
“When it comes to reigniting brands that have lost their lustre with customers, LVMH has longstanding credentials,” said Robins. “With Alexandre Arnault having reignited Rimowa as a brand ‘created by Millennials for Millennials, the signs of things to come are here for Tiffany.”
In its second-quarter earnings report released on July 26, LVMH highlighted the “successful integration of Tiffany, which has performed extremely well since its acquisition.” LVMH focused on Tiffany’s new approach to product — specifically the introduction of a men’s engagement ring — in addition to what Chris Hollis, LVMH director of financial communications, calls “a new and exciting marketing campaign.”
But reviving Tiffany is likely to pose a bigger challenge than a niche brand like Rimowa, which doesn’t have the jeweller’s nearly two-century history. A more gradual approach — like the one employed two decades ago to help turn Louis Vuitton into a venerable brand beyond luggage and handbags and again after its 2013 slump — may be needed.
“A challenge for these heritage brands, whenever they try to get too cool, they end up alienating some of their core base,” Giacolone said. “It’s a fine line one has to walk … you can’t just get cool.”
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.