Tiffany rose to the occasion

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Tiffany & Co.'s ad features a real-life couple.
Tiffany & Co.'s ad features a real-life couple.

This heritage brand's engagement-themed ad featuring two men was savvy business -- which is why it's important

Earlier this month, Tiffany & Co. created waves with its first-ever same-sex marriage ad, featuring a real-life male couple. While many lauded it for being daring, even powerful, the move by a stalwart luxury brand to court same-sex couples was actually an overdue recognition of changing currents in the wedding industry and beyond.

To dismiss Tiffany’s move only as a clever marketing ploy and a business-driven market expansion tactic is misplaced. To criticize it for exploiting its cultural clout and brand symbolism is a sign of unfounded high-mindedness. Tiffany is a successful, renown and beloved global brand. Of course it is a growth-driven business! To expect less from a brand would be nothing short of naive.

The same-sex wedding market is large and lucrative — and, with same-sex marriage allowed today in 36 U.S. states, it is rapidly expanding. In other words, marriage equality continues to bring in millions both for the $55 billion wedding industry and for U.S. economy, according to a November 2014 Wedding Services Market Research Report. The Gay Wedding Institute estimates that $259 million was spent in New York alone during the first year of same-sex marriage. If legalized in all states, same-sex weddings would create an additional $16.8 billion in revenue for the wedding industry, according to the report by UCLA’s School of Law.

The U.S. wedding industry employs around 800,000 people, according to market research firm IBISWorld. Given that 72% of same-sex couples prefer their wedding vendors to have LBGT-inclusive language, and that 69% seek vendors with LGBT inclusive photos in their marketing, this number is only going to grow.

In addition to having a higher household income than heterosexual couples, same-sex couples spend more money per guest and more money overall on their weddings, according to TheKnot.com’s annual wedding study. 82% percent of same-sex couples refer to the nuptials as their wedding in invitations, up from 70% in 2013. Two out of three couples now exchange an engagement ring before or after the proposal.

Those same-sex couples who can afford a Tiffany engagement ring tend to be lavish in their spending and willing to invest both on their engagement and their wedding. Which makes them exactly the same as the not same-sex couples, and that is exactly the point of equality.

There were, of course, critics. Tiffany was condemned for having a thinly veiled economic motives behind the ad. It was accused of using conspicuous consumption to promote equality where there is none. Some said it corrupts love by equating it with the wedding industry. The pair depicted in the ads was said to be too handsome, too rich, too privileged. The guys were white. They were men. Tiffany is playing it safe. Why didn’t they chose a transgender couple, preferably of color, like Barney’s did?

Tiffany is not an edgy brand. It is a brand with heritage built around celebrating, affirming and recognizing those in love. It built a cultural and economic empire around this celebration and successfully turned the Tiffany diamond into the symbol of enduring love. Recently, Tiffany focused on attracting a younger audience (think Tiffany T) that is more diverse in its tastes, affinities and demographics — and more open as a group to same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, 2014 was the year when same-sex couples overwhelmingly won the right to marry.

If anything, the economic and cultural rationale behind Tiffany’s recent advertising, as well as its warm reception by consumers and the media, indicates that Tiffany is the brand that jumped ahead of its competition on this trend.

Good that it did. Tiffany is a cultural behemoth that stands for something in the American and global imagination. If it likens the affirmation of love with the wedding industry and encourages the purchase of luxury jewelry, it does so without discrimination between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

If some feel bitter that capitalism got there before the public sphere and the law, wipe your tears and lighten up. By sending encouraging signals, Tiffany helps same-sex imagery of engagement, wedding and family penetrate our culture and our conversations. That’s what marriage-equality advocates hoped for from the start.

Ana Andjelic is group strategy director for Spring Studios.

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