We're All Glamorous!

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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."

Even traditional glamour marketing has changed. In less than three years, Sweetface Fashion, Jennifer Lopez's holding company, zoomed from zero to $300 million in sales. This year's goal is in the neighborhood of $400 million. While the endless stream of J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez merchandise hardly creates a feeling of exclusivity, Lopez rarely appears in the promo campaigns, thus preserving some of her scarcity. Nevertheless, Bruce Tait of Fallon Brand Consulting cautions, "When any brand extends beyond its perceived core, consumers often look at it as a greedy move, and that can create animosity."

Lopez's marketers hope her target audience views her ambition and business smarts as the height of modern-day glamour. "In fashion, having momentum and timing is everything," says Denise Seegal, CEO of Sweetface Fashion. "We take our cues from our consumer, and they want J.Lo from head to toe." This is a radical departure from days of old, when poster girls may have always been ferociously ambitious, but it never showed.

Now let's talk about the gents. It's hard to say whether Queer Eye reflects a broader acceptance of gays and gay culture, but it does underscore the increasing pressure on men to be glamorous. The business opportunity is huge, as the billion-dollar market for sexual-performance-enhancing drugs and plastic surgery for men shows. To date, the marketing of male glamour almost without exception smacks of desperation. The Queer Eye targets are always hauled in by their women. The marketing of Viagra and Levitra is painful to behold, and indeed Viagra will soon hire a new advertising agency to manage its $100 million account.

By contrast, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs elevated hip-hop style to full-on male glamour in 1998 with the introduction of his modestly priced urban men's label, Sean John. Revenue has grown steadily, to $175 million. Unlike such labels as Phat Farm, Enyce Clothing and Rocawear, Sean John's line, which includes suits, offers a unique mix of old-school attributes. Combs' recent acquisition of a stake in Zac Posen's couture label reinforces the scarcity and mystery effects. Combs' brand also enjoys a slightly nasty reputation — that's good — not least for his star-crossed association with Lopez. What's more, his 2001 trial for bribery and weapons possession very quickly turned into a high-profile runway show, which somehow befits a corporate parent called Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group. (Combs was acquitted.)

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