Allure of the Abroad: Tiffany & Co., Its Cultural Influence, and Consumers

Jasleen Kaur

Abstract


Introduction 

Tiffany and Co. is an American luxury jewellery and specialty retailer with its headquarters in New York City. Each piece of jewellery, symbolically packaged in a blue box and tied with a white bow, encapsulates the brand’s unique diamond pieces, symbolic origin story, branded historical contributions and representations in culture. Cultural brands are those that live and thrive in the minds of consumers (Holt). Their brand promise inspires loyalty and trust. These brands offer experiences, products, and personalities and spark emotional connotations within consumers (Arvidsson). This case study uses Tiffany & Co. as a successful example to reveal the importance of understanding consumers, the influential nature of media culture, and the efficacy of strategic branding, advertising, and marketing over time (Holt). It also reveals how Tiffany & Co. earned and maintained its place as an iconic cultural brand within consumer culture, through its strong association with New York and products from abroad. Through its trademarked logo and authentic luxury jewellery, encompassed in the globally recognised “Tiffany Blue” boxes, Tiffany & Co.’s cultural significance stems from its embodiment of the expected makings of a brand (Chernatony et al.). However, what propels this brand into what Douglas Holt terms “iconic territory” is that in its one hundred and seventy-nine years of existence, Tiffany’s has lived exclusively in the minds of its consumers.

Tiffany & Co.’s intuitive prowess in reaching its target audience is what allows it to dominate the luxury jewellery market (Halasz et al.). This is not only a result of product value, but the alluring nature of the “Tiffany's from New York” brand imagery and experience (Holt et al.), circulated and celebrated in consumer culture through influential depictions in music, film and literature over time (Knight). Tiffany’s faithfully participates in the magnetic identity myth embodied by the brand and city, and has become globally sought after by consumers near and far, and recognised for its romantic connotations of love, luxury, and New York (Holt). 

An American Dream: New York Affiliation & Diamond Origins

It was Truman Capote’s characterisation of Holly Golightly in his book (1958) and film adaption, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) that introduced the world to New York as the infatuating “setting,” upon which the Tiffany’s diamond rested. It was a place, that enabled the iconic Holly Golightly to personify the feeling of being abroad in New York and to demonstrate the seductive nature of a Tiffany’s store experience, further shaping the identity myth encompassed by the brand and the city for their global audience (Holt).     

Essentially, New York was the influential cultural instigator that propelled Tiffany & Co. from a consumer product, to a cultural icon. It did this by circulating its iconography via celebrity affiliations and representations in music, film, and literature (Knight), and by guiding strong brand associations in the minds of consumers (Arvidsson). However, before Tiffany’s became culturally iconic, it established its place in American heritage through historical contributions (Tiffany & Co.) and pledged an association to New York by personifying the American Dream (Mae). 

To help achieve his dream in a rapidly evolving economy (Elliott), Charles Lewis Tiffany purportedly brought the first substantial gemstones into America from overseas, and established the first American jewellery store to sell them to the public (Halasz et al.). The Tiffany & Co. origin story personifies the alluring nature of products from abroad, and their influence on individuals seeking an image of affluence for themselves. 

The ties between New York, Tiffany’s, and its consumers were further strengthened through the established, invaluable and emblematic nature of the diamond, historically launched and controlled by South African Diamond Cartel of De Beers (Twitchell). De Beers manipulated the demand for diamonds and instigated it as a status symbol. It then became a commoditised measurement of an individual’s worth and potential to love (Twitchell), a philosophy, also infused in the Tiffany & Co. brand ideology (Holt). Building on this, Tiffany’s further ritualised the justification of the material symbolisation of love through the idealistic connotations surrounding its assorted diamond ring experiences (Lee). This was projected through a strategic product placement and targeted advertising scheme, evident in dominant culture throughout the brand’s existence (Twitchell). Idealistically discussed by Purinton, this is also what exemplified, for consumers, the enticing cultural symbolism of the crystal rock from New York (Halasz et al.).      

Brand Essence: Experience & Iconography

Prior to pop culture portraying the charming Tiffany’s brand imagery in mainstream media (Balmer et al.), Charles Tiffany directed the company’s ascent into luxury jewellery (Phillips et al.), fashioned the enticing Tiffany’s “store experience”, and initiated the experiential process of purchasing a diamond product. This immediately intertwined the imagery of Tiffany’s with New York, instigating the exclusivity of the experience for consumers (Holt). Tiffany’s provided customers with the opportunity to participate in an intricately branded journey, resulting in the diamond embodiment which declared their love most accurately; a token, packaged and presented within an iconic “Tiffany Blue” box (Klara). Aligning with Keller’s branding blueprint (7), this interactive process enabled Tiffany & Co. to build brand loyalty by consistently connecting with each of its consumers, regardless of their location in the world.  

The iconography of the coveted “blue box” was crafted when Charles Tiffany trademarked the shade Pantone No. 1837 (Osborne), which he coined for the year of Tiffany’s founding (Klara). Along with the brand promise of containing quality luxury jewellery, the box and that particular shade of blue instantly became a symbol of exclusivity, sophistication, and elegance, as it could only be acquired by purchasing jewellery from a Tiffany’s store (Rawlings).    

The exclusive packaging began to shape Tiffany’s global brand image, becoming a signifier of style and superiority (Phillips et al.), and eventually just as iconic as the jewellery itself. The blue box is still the strongest signifier of the brand today (Osborne). Ultimately, individuals want to participate in the myth of love, perfection and wealth (Arvidsson), encompassed exclusively by every Tiffany’s “blue box”.  

Furthermore, Tiffany’s has remained artistically significant within the luxury jewellery landscape since introducing its one-of-a-kind Tiffany Setting in 1886. It was the first jewellery store to fully maximise the potential of the natural beauty possessed of diamonds, while connotatively reflecting the natural beauty of every wearer (Phillips et al.). According to Jeffrey Bennett, the current Vice President of Tiffany & Co. New York, by precisely perching the “Tiffany Diamond” upon six intricately crafted silver prongs, the ring shines to its maximum capacity in a lit environment, while being closely secured to the wearer’s finger (Lee). Hence, the “Tiffany Setting” has become a universally sought after icon of extravagance and intricacy (Knight), and, as Bennett further describes, even today, the setting represents uncompromising quality and is a standard image of true love (Lee). 

Alluring Brand Imagery & Influential Representations in Culture

Empirical consumer research, involving two focus groups of married and unmarried, ethnically diverse Australian women and conducted in 2015, revealed that even today, individuals accredit their desire for Tiffany’s to the inspirational imagery portrayed in music, movies and television. Through participating in the Tiffany's from New York store experience, consumers are able to indulge in their fantasies of what it would feel like to be abroad and the endless potential a city such as New York could hold for them. Tiffany’s successfully disseminated its brand ideology into consumer culture (Purinton) and extended the brand’s significance for consumers beyond the 1960s through constant representation of the expensive business of love, lust and marriage within media culture. This is demonstrated in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Legally Blonde (2001), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), The Great Gatsby (2013), and in the influential television shows, Gossip Girl (2007—2012), and Glee (2009—2015).

The most important of these was the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and the iconic embodiment of Capote’s (1958) Holly Golightly by actress Audrey Hepburn (Wasson). Hepburn’s (1961) portrayal of the emotionally evocative connotations of experiencing Tiffany’s in New York, as personified by her romantic dialogue throughout the film (Mae), produced the image that nothing bad could ever happen at a Tiffany’s store. Thus began the Tiffany’s from New York cultural phenomenon, which has been consistently reiterated in popular media culture ever since.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s also represented a greater struggle faced by women in the 1960s (Dutt); that of gender roles, women’s place in society, and their desire for stability and freedom simultaneously (Sheehan). Due to Hepburn’s accurate characterisation of this struggle, the film enabled Tiffany & Co. to become more than just jewellery and a symbol of support (Torelli). Tiffany’s also allowed filming to take place inside its New York flagship store to which Capote’s narrative so idealistically alludes, further demonstrating its support for the 1960s women’s movement at an opportune moment in history (Torelli). Hence, Tiffany’s from New York became a symbol for the independent materialistic modern woman (Wasson), an ideal, which has become a repeated motif, re-imagined and embodied by popular icons (Knight) such as, Madonna in Material Girl (1985), and the characterisations of Carrie Bradshaw by Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlotte York by Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), and Donna Paulsen by Sarah Rafferty (Suits). 

The iconic television series Sex and the City, set in New York, boldly represented Tiffany’s as a symbol of friendship when a fellow female protagonist parted with her lavish Tiffany’s engagement ring to help her friend financially (Sex and the City). This was similarly reimagined in the popular television series Suits, also set in New York, where a protagonist is gifted two Tiffany Boxes from her female friend, as a token of congratulations on her engagement. This allowed Tiffany & Co. to add friendship to its symbolic repertoire (Manning), whilst still personifying a symbol of love in the minds of its consumers who were tactically also the target audiences of these television shows (Wharton).

The alluring Tiffany’s image was presented specifically to a male audience through the first iconic Bond Girl named Tiffany Case in the novel Diamonds Are Forever (Fleming). The film adaption made its cultural imprint in 1971 with Sean Connery portraying James Bond, and paired the exaggerated brand of “007” with the evocative imagery of Tiffany’s (Spilski et al.). This served as a reminder to existing audiences about the powerful and seductive connotations of the blue box with the white ribbon (Osborne), as depicted by the enticing Tiffany Case in 1956.

Furthermore, the Tiffany’s image was similarly established as a lyrical status symbol of wealth and indulgence (Knight). Portrayed most memorably by Marilyn Monroe’s iconic performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Even though the song only mentions Tiffany’s lyrically twice (Vito et al.), through the celebrity affiliation, Monroe was introduced as a credible embodiment of Tiffany’s brand essence (Davis). Consequently, she permanently attached her image to that of the alluring Tiffany Diamonds for the target audience, male and female, past and present (Vito et al.). 

Exactly thirty-two years later, Monroe’s 1953 depiction was reinforced in consumer culture (Wharton) through an uncanny aesthetic and lyrical reimagining of the original performance by Madonna in her music video Material Girl (1985). This further preserved and familiarised the Tiffany’s image of glamour, luxury and beauty by implanting it in the minds of a new generation (Knight). Despite the shift in celebrity affiliation to a current cultural communicator (Arvidsson), the influential image of the Tiffany Diamond remains constant and Tiffany’s has maintained its place as a popular signifier of affluence and elegance in mainstream consumer culture (Jansson).    

The main difference, however, between Monroe’s and Madonna’s depictions is that Madonna aspired to be associated with the Tiffany’s brand image because of her appreciation for Marilyn Monroe and her brand image, which also intrinsically exuded beauty, money and glamour (Vito et al.). This suggests that even a musical icon like Madonna was influenced by Tiffany & Co.’s hold on consumer culture (Spilski et al.), and was able to inject the same ideals into her own loyal fan base (Fill).   

It is evident that Tiffany & Co. is thoroughly in tune with its target market and understands the relevant routes into the minds of its consumers. Kotler (113) identifies that the brand has demonstrated the ability to reach its separate audiences simultaneously, with an image that resonates with them on different levels (Manning). For example, Tiffany & Co. created the jewellery that featured in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 cinematic adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby (1925). Through representing a signifier of love and lust induced by monetary possessions (Fitzgerald), Tiffany’s truthfully portrayed its own brand image and persuaded audiences to associate the brand with these ideals (Holt). By illustrating the romantic, alluring and powerful symbolism of giving or obtaining love, armed with a Tiffany’s Diamond (Mae), Tiffany’s validated its timeless, historical and cultural contemporary relevance (Greene).

This was also most recently depicted through Tiffany & Co.’s Will You (2015) advertising campaign. The brand demonstrated its support for marriage equality, by featuring a real life same-sex couple to symbolise that love is not conditional and that Tiffany’s has something that signifies every relationship (Dicker). Thus, because of the brand’s rooted place in central media culture and the ability to appeal to the belief system of its target market while evolving with, and understanding its consumers on a level of metonymy (Manning), Tiffany & Co. has transitioned from a consumer product to a culturally relevant and globally sought-after iconic brand (Holt).  

Conclusion

Tiffany & Co.’s place-based association and representational reflection in music, film, and literature, assisted in the formation of loyal global communities that thrive on the identity building side effects associated with luxury brand affiliation (Banet-Weiser et al.). Tiffany’s enables its global target market to revel in the shared meanings surrounding the brand, by signifying a symbolic construct that resonates with consumers (Hall). Tiffany’s inspires consumers to eagerly exercise their brand trust and loyalty by independently ritualising the Tiffany’s from New York brand experience for themselves and the ones they love (Fill). Essentially, Tiffany & Co. successfully established its place in society and strengthened its ties to New York, through targeted promotions and iconographic brand dissemination (Nita).

Furthermore, by ritualistically positioning the brand (Holt), surrounding and saturating it in existing cultural practices, supporting significant cultural actions and becoming a symbol of wealth, luxury, commitment, love and exclusivity (Phillips et al.), Tiffany’s has steadily built a positive brand association and desire in the minds of consumers near and far (Keller). As a direct result, Tiffany’s earned and kept its place as a culturally progressive brand in New York and around the world, sustaining its influence and ensuring its survival in today’s contemporary consumer society (Holt).

Most importantly, however, although New York has become the anchor in every geographically exemplified Tiffany’s store experience in literature, New York has also become the allegorical anchor in the minds of consumers in actuality (Arvidsson). Hence, Tiffany & Co. has catered to the needs of its global target audience by providing it with convenient local stores abroad, where their love can be personified by purchasing a Tiffany Diamond, the ultimate symbol of authentic commitment, and where they can always experience an allusive piece of New York. 

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Keywords


branding; culture; consumers; case study; New York; cultural influence; consumer culture; diamonds; american dream; luxury; jewellery; Tiffany's; Tiffany & Co; Douglas Holt



Copyright (c) 2016 Jasleen Kaur

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