Case Study: Cartier Destinée for China

I did a case study a while back on Cartier on how they brilliantly entered the China market and established themselves as a leading luxury jeweller. I was really impressed by the exhibition they did at the Forbidden City in Beijing – to even get permission to have an exhibition and event there flexed PR muscles and connectivity with the government officials. And that wonderful tagline of “King to Jewllers, Jewellers to Kings” which works bilingually, a whole educational exercise on telling the story and heritage of the brand that features also in Chinese history.

When the new campaign on their new range of Destinée rings came out, specifically targeted at the Chinese market came out, I was disappointed and appalled by how low they’ve gone to tarnish their own brand just to sell rings. As a cosmopolitan Asian Chinese woman fluent in English, Mandarin and French, having lived in Beijing for four years, I felt insulted as a target audience for the ring.

The campaign is wrong on so many levels. Surely, this will sell rings, to those watermelon farmer millionaires, what they call the 暴发户 baofahu (literally translates to bank accounts that have exploded). Michelle Chen is Taiwanese and currently one of the hottest celebrity in the Chinese market. (she’s Taiwanese, not mainland Chinese and neither does she have the sophistication of the brand. In other words, she’s off-brand). The short film has a terrible plot, and clearly a western stereotypical perspective of what Chinese want – that’s a slap in the face for the modern middle class educated Chinese woman. There’s even a comment on youtube in traditional Chinese that says the brand should do some deep thinking and take the insulting video offline. Clearly, there’s some Chinese lady who feels the same as I do.

The Chinese have been writing famous tragic and passionate romance novels for centuries and having a foreigner 老外 laowai propose in Mandarin to a Taiwanese lady lead in Paris – how does a Chinese man relate to that? Or an educated middle class Chinese woman relate to that for that matter?

I would have loved that Chinese artist Yang Fudong (he made a beautiful black and white film for Prada in 2011) produced it since the target market was so clearly Chinese – that would show both on the local and international scale that China has arrived. What better way to have amazing creative talent present the luxury brand that also indirectly appeals to their nationalistic pride?

Okay, if we wanted to take it dramatic TV series style since it’s gone that way already hijacking a good friend’s wedding, wouldn’t a Chinese man speaking French in Paris with that cheesey Eiffel tower backdrop, proposing to his Chinese girlfriend (personally I think someone like Tang Wei would have been a better choice). It’d be that Renaissance Chinese man every watermelon farmer millionaire aspires to be. And the Chinese man most of the target women audience want to marry, clearly it’s not for the mistress ernai 二奶 market since it’s a celebration of love, romance and marriage. Ironically, most successful and rich Chinese business men also have mistresses and no one has tapped into that market for advertising infidelity is also wrong.

Hopefully Cartier doesn’t go down this route in another desperate attempt to increase sales in China.

In the first place, engagements and proposals don’t happen often in Chinese culture. They ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage from the parents and they go to Tiffany or Cartier to choose a ring together. While this takes away the romance of surprise, the notion is in fact quite sweet and romantic as they see it as a new phase of life together and choosing that very expensive purchase is part of beginning their journey together. If you are in France or Hong Kong in particular where tax is negligible, you see plenty of Chinese couples shopping for their engagement diamond ring together in Tiffany’s and Cartier.

More on this on Thoughtful China’s recent overview of Weddings in China – an 80 billion USD business annually.

Clearly, there was insufficient knowledge about the market or little research done. If moving sales was their primary objective, they’ve achieved it with their rich, undiscerning and unsophisticated crowd. I’d like to see how the marketing team strategically deals with the long term repercussions for risking the brand just to sell rings.

Cartier, I loved the brand but sorry to say it’s ruined my whole perception of your brand and now, I’m sure I don’t want a Cartier ring when I get married, even if there’s a huge discount on it. I don’t want to associate myself with the bad plot, poor strategy and stereotype.

Juliana Loh

Juliana is a freelance marketing communications strategist with more than a decade of experience in the field of advertising, journalism and luxury hospitality, with a focus on China and the Asia Pacific region.

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