Jennifer Lopez wore an engagement ring set in platinum. So did Catherine Zeta-Jones, Madonna, and Ashley Judd, and over a third of all brides-to-be in the US last year. But 10 years ago, platinum was close to nowhere in the bridal and fine jewelry markets, with only a couple of failed PR and marketing attempts in the sector.
That began to change in 1992, when Laurie Hudson founded Platinum Guild International USA (PGI-USA), which serves as the marketing arm for the worldwide platinum industry.
"I thought it was unusual that no one was promoting platinum in North America, in the way diamonds, gold, and pearls are, says Hudson. "After all, the US is a $44 billion jewelry market, the biggest in the world."
Although the three largest platinum mines liked her proposal, Hudson knew the challenges of promoting an extra-expensive precious metal that hadn't been popular since before WWII. "We had to put platinum in upscale markets, building it from the ground up."
Platinum had never gone away - high-end retailers such as Tiffany's had always set diamonds in the durable metal. But PGI-USA's goal was to make platinum fashionable again, yet promote an upscale image. "Platinum is expensive, let's face it, Hudson admits. "So we had to identify our target market and what category of product we would sell."
The organization didn't want to go after customers already buying platinum in the estate-jewelry and Harry Winston-type markets ("the Liz Taylors of the world"), and instead focused on the educated and intelligent bridal market - Gen Xers who had grown up on silver rather than yellow gold.
"We wanted platinum to be accessible to regular people. Bridal is a good category for that because people are willing to spend more on something that will last a lifetime."
To reintroduce platinum to high-end consumers, PGI-USA first had to train retailers, work with bridal jewelry manufacturers, and form partnerships with top bridal designers. Then, the organization kicked its media campaign into high gear, meeting with magazine editors around the country several times a year, contacting TV wardrobe people, and working with stylists and celebrity agents. They also worked to get the jewelry industry to support their efforts, with plenty of coverage in the jewelry trade magazines, trade presentations, and lively fashion shows.
"We wanted jewelers to become more fashion-savvy, and plugged in to the celebrity quotient, says Hudson. More recently, the organization has worked on expanding beyond the bridal market into other jewelry products, with programs such as this year's Women With Heart, in which 22 film and music stars (including Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz) designed one-of-a-kind platinum heart pendants that were sold at auction to benefit their favorite charities.
In 1992, less than 200 jewelers carried platinum. Today, over 20,000 retailers stock a wide variety of platinum pieces. Since the Guild began, the demand for platinum jewelry has increased by more than 1,500%. Platinum has become the white-hot metal of choice for brides across America, product placements are routinely seen in movies and TV shows, and dozens of celebrities sashay down the red carpet at high-profile awards wearing platinum. And the platinum PR juggernaut has reached new heights: At the 2002 Academy Awards, celebrity shoe designer Stuart Weitzman even designed a $1 million pair of platinum and diamond shoes (worn by actress Laura Harring).
"We have continued to stay totally current, plugged in, and fresh, says Hudson. "Even after 10 years, we have always worked on keeping the campaign exciting and ahead of the game."
PGI-USA is continuing to work on increasing its bridal share, positioning platinum as the ultimate "enduring and desirable symbol of love. It is also striving to create long-term platinum loyalty, so that a platinum heart pendant could be given as an anniversary gift, for example. "The past 10 years have been tremendously fulfilling, says Hudson. Looks like the next decade may offer even more platinum power.
Client: Platinum Guild International
PR Team: In-house, as well as PR firms in NY and LA
Campaign: Raising platinum's profile
Time Frame: Spring of 1992 - present
Budget: $8 million per year (for advertising, marketing, and PR)