When DeBeers debuted its right-hand diamond rings last summer with a relatively modest print campaign, the sparklers became an instant hit. Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz and Sarah Jessica Parker all wore them, while Katie Couric sported hers when she featured them on the Today show. As experts buzzed about women's disposable income and girl-power advertising, Wal-Mart hastily introduced a selection starting at $177, with solid sales results.
Apparently diamonds are not only forever; they're for everyone, all the time. That raises a question: If diamonds have gone mass market, what about glamour, that mysterious quality that used to cling to the rocks and the fortunate few who wore them? Glamour once was an elusive quality embodied by aristocratic goddesses like Grace Kelly and Princess Diana. The secret to their appeal? The usual stuff--beauty, money, star-crossed romance--plus mystery, strong personal style and scarcity.
These days it's a bit, you know, common. "A generation ago, glamour was a distant relative with a lot of money and a questionable reputation," says Paul Leinberger of NOP World, a market-research firm. "Nowadays it's a personal decision, just a few dollars away at the mall." Glamour is no more the exclusive preserve of extraordinary women or even of traditional feminine beauty products like makeup, clothing and hair color. Welcome to glamour 2004, the marketing strategy. The idea is to cover mass brands with a thin veneer of glamour to differentiate them from the competition, regardless of whether the product or service is even remotely fabulous. Successful practitioners are selling everything from washing machines to napkins with this strategy, which uses a customized mix of the traditional ingredients. Humor is often added, as if to acknowledge the gulf between the past and the present. Is it still glamour? More important, has it been successful?
Pier 1 Imports and others strive for comic glamour to make their mark. With actress Kirstie Alley, Pier 1 walked the razor's edge of parody. The company, with $1.8 billion in sales for 2003, apparently felt it could gamble on Alley's fairy-godmother-in-an-evening-gown routine. It has now moved on to Thom Filicia, a member of the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy cast, who strengthens Pier 1's connection to individual style while injecting a trendy dose of male glamour.
As Mercedes-Benz has learned, comic glamour is deceptively difficult to execute. It must be sophisticated yet have a self-deprecating wit. Mercedes, a brand with impeccably aristocratic roots, has stumbled frequently in its attempts at humor, most recently in TV spots featuring a race to the airport and a genie in a bottle. On the other hand, Whirlpool introduced a Benz-like washing machine in a brilliant onetime use of comic glamour when it debuted its Calypso model with psychedelics and a deadpan sense of humor.
Even coffee shops are getting gussied up. By day a sandwich shop, the chain Cosi by night tries to transform itself into a sleek wine bar. The company lost $26 million last year on this Cinderella transformation, but Cosi's executive chairman, Bill Forrest, expects the new look to be profitable in 2004. Says he: "Our goal is to offer our customer the essence of urbaneness and taste."