Can gold polish up its tarnished image?

The WGC is launching a campaign to persuade consumers to re-evaluate their perceptions about gold. But can the metal ever regain its lustre after its long association with the tacky?

The World Gold Council (WGC), the body that represents gold mines around the world, is planning a &£50m advertising campaign to promote the precious metal (MW last week).

The campaign will attempt to give gold a more sophisticated image, tackling WGC fears that gold has lost its prestigious connotations in the jewellery sector. Gerald Ratner, who famously described his products as “crap”, did little to help gold’s cause, and the recent high street fashion for all things gold has cheapened the perceived value of the noble metal. The WGC is also attempting to reverse the current vogue for platinum gold wedding and engagement rings.

But advertising is not all the WGC is planning. Part of its &£50m global budget is also to be spent on sponsorship and PR. The change is being driven by WGC chief executive Haruko Fukuda, who took up her post in April – the first woman ever to hold the position.

The WGC’s branding is being developed by branding consultancy Wolff Olins, and the new ad campaign will be launched towards the end of next year. BMP DDB, Publicis, TBWA/London, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, EURO RSCG, Publicis and Wieden & Kennedy are pitching for the creative account.

The WGC launched a campaign in the US last month. Called “Gold Fashioned Girls”, it extolled the virtues of 18-carat gold jewellery. The aim of the campaign is to keep up the demand for gold jewellery for the future health of the industry.

The WGC campaign is not a rescue operation for plummeting sales – in fact global sales in gold jewellery are robust at $14.7bn (&£10.5bn) during 1999. But since economies stopped using the gold standard, gold has had to rely more on consumers.

DeBeers has successfully promoted its diamonds with a campaign based around the “Forever” and “Girl’s Best Friend”. But gold is more difficult to market because of the stigma of ostentatiousness which is attached to the precious metal, according to Cartier marketing director Etienne de Gramont.

“Gold is a material; diamonds are unique. Diamonds are a creation in themselves, they are created in the earth. Gold is smelted and formed into jewellery. Gold is more common, it has less appeal,” says de Gramont.

Not only that, as DeBeers is the main global diamond supplier, people relate quality with its name. Gold does not have a single supplier and so will have greater problems creating a brand, says de Gramont.

De Gramont believes the main problem is the perception consumers have about gold. Younger people prefer white gold or platinum, and there is also more of a demand for more affordable and accessible jewellery products. This has led to an increase in the use of steel over the past two to three years, in items such as watches.

“Ordinary people have more access to items which were once normally out of their price range because of the cheaper metals being used,” says de Gramont.

The WGC needs to tackle the public’s blasé attitude to gold and bring back its uniqueness. The traditional value that people once placed on the metal needs to be regained, says de Gramont. He says yellow gold has more warmth, something that could be targeted through the marketing.

He also believes younger consumers should be targeted, but he has doubts that it is a job for the WGC saying, as was the case for the DeBeers campaign, companies such as Cartier could be involved.

Despite this season’s fashion look being glitzy gold glamour, DeBeers marketing director Hazel Kay says the WGC would be wrong to run a campaign based on a fashion whim, which will change just as quickly as it came.

Although Kay says that 90 per cent of diamond sales are men buying for women, she believes that both DeBeers and the WGC must look at marketing jewellery to women buying something for themselves – not such an easy task as might at first appear.

“It is a tougher call to get women to buy for themselves. You have to make them feel they aren’t buying it themselves because they can’t get a man to buy it for them,” says Kay.

Turning around the fortunes of gold is likely to be a tough job for the agency that wins the WGC account.

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