NEW YORK -- Ronald Winston has become a convert.For years, Winston, the chairman and chief executive officer of luxury jewelers Harry Winston Inc. here, adamantly resisted an image campaign and preferred to photograph the company's high-priced jewels as still lives. But for the holiday season, his top executives convinced him to run a branded image campaign featuring the model Carolyn Murphy, and the results were staggering: business surged more than 25 percent. Harry Winston has estimated annual sales in excess of $100 million.The ad campaign is only one of several changes the company is making to update its image. Other moves include some dramatic improvements to the decor of the company's Fifth Avenue flagship to make it more approachable for customers, such as the installation of a glass door instead of the big, imposing wooden door, and adding larger windows. Besides the New York store, the company owns stores in Beverly Hills, Paris, Geneva, Osaka and Tokyo.According to Winston, the company's modus operandi was built on exclusivity. He explained that 70 years ago his father built a one-man show. "He wanted to handle every customer personally. He wanted that 'Keep Out' look."I spent a lifetime, and my father and grandfather's lifetime, being so damn exclusive. You don't reverse that in six months. The average price here is $100,000," said Winston.But the new Harry Winston is more democratic. The ad campaign is part of that message and ran in the November and December editions of such magazines as Town & Country, W, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Departures, and Martha Stewart Weddings. According to sources, the company spent about $2 million on the holiday campaign."They dragged me biting and screaming into the campaign for two years," admitted Winston, in an interview at his offices here. "First of all, people like to see design, and it gets just too darn small on a figure," he explained, describing what happens when the jewels are photographed on a model, rather than displayed as still lifes. "The jewelry gets dwarfed by the human figure in the atmosphere shots," he said."I also felt personally we weren't quite ready for this," he continued. "I personally was ready, but the company wasn't ready from a business point of view. We were headed into a recession, which I predicted. We weren't ready with the facelift of the New York store. I also felt it would confuse the consumer, but in hindsight, I'm not correct," said Winston, a man who rarely admits mistakes.The whimsical ads, created by the New York agency Laspata/DeCaro, have a Fifties feel and feature Murphy wearing the jewelry in various situations. In one image, she appears with a masked bandit, in another she's blowing out candles at a birthday celebration. And in others, she's eating popcorn, sitting in a car and lying on a couch. They carry the tagline, "talk to me Harry Winston.""She is wearing the jewelry, but the jewelry isn't wearing her," said Charles DeCaro, partner in Laspata/DeCaro. "Feel-good advertising is really important so you don't feel threatened," added Rocco Laspata, partner in the agency, who shot the campaign in Los Angeles.The branding campaign, that will run throughout the year incorporating different visuals, will be supplemented with ads featuring products only, shot by Kenro Izu, that will appear in newspapers like the New York Times.Patricia Hambrecht, president of Harry Winston Inc., said the company set out to accomplish several things with the campaign. "There were serious barriers. People thought Winston was unaffordable and intimidating. We needed to do an image campaign to break the barriers. I can give it to you in two words, 'approachable glamour,"' she said.Since the campaign broke, Hambrecht said, "What we saw was a noticeable increase in watches and wedding band purchases. Sales over $100,000 continue to be very important. We're seeing significant increases in sales under $100,000 and under $50,000."James Haag, director of global sales and marketing, said, "These [image] ads broke at the right time. We never had people wearing Harry Winston jewelry in the ads. We've had 50 phone calls for the stacked rings."
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