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Swarovski - cutting edge?
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cutting edge?
by Barry Silverstein
May 18, 2009

How did it happen? How did a company that began cutting lead crystal glass more than 100 years ago in northern Bohemia become the must-have bling of modern society?

That’s the power of brand marketing. “Crystal can sound a bit old-fashioned and grandmotherly so we at Swarovski have worked very hard to keep it modern,” says Peter Zottl, Swarovski’s corporate vice president of travel and retail (“Brand Profile,” The Moodie Report, October 2008).

Modern is an understatement. Swarovski has single-handedly cut a swath through the designer and celebrity world. The Swarovski name is associated with miniature collectibles, sculptures, jewelry, fashion, lighting, watches and every type of accessory imaginable. It is a brand name that is the envy of every marketer who wants to garner the attention of the beautiful people.

There was no indication that Swarovski would become such a sensation when Daniel Swarovski, son of a Czech glass cutter, patented an electric glass-cutting machine in 1892. In 1895, Swarovski opened his company in Wattens, Tyrol, in Austria, because of the availability of hydroelectric power. Swarovski has been in Wattens ever since. Still independent and family-owned, the company is managed by fourth- and fifth-generation family members. Swarovski employs about 26,000 people and maintains a presence in more than 120 countries.

If it were just about lead crystal glass, the Swarovski story might end here. But this is a company that is nothing if not aggressive about extending its line and getting its brand name exposed—really exposed. According to the company, Swarovski is the global market leader in loose crystal; crystal objects, jewelry and accessories; precision optical equipment through its Swarovski Optik subsidiary; bonded grinding and dressing tools through its company Tryolit; gemstones and created stones; and road safety products through its company Swareflex. There are close to 900 Swarovski-operated boutiques around the world and nearly 750 partner boutiques.

As for brushing shoulders with celebrities, stars have been star-struck by Swarovski ever since the days of Marlene Dietrich. It hasn’t hurt that Swarovski has carefully cultivated the Hollywood relationship with its presence at the Oscars (practically defining the word “bling”), the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival. Swarovski has also played the product placement card brilliantly, collaborating with the costume designer of the movie Moulin Rouge, creating the crystal for the chandelier in the film version of Phantom of the Opera and making notable appearances in two James Bond movies, Ocean’s Thirteen, Dreamgirls and other films.

You’ll also find Swarovski in the public eye, always in a high-profile way. For example, the star on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City is Swarovski crystal. Swarovski is prominently present along the world’s finest shopping boulevards and in international airports.

The company has pushed its brand beyond its own products. In an effort to have almost everything Swarovski-ized, the company recently introduced its “CRYSTALLIZED – Swarovski Elements” brand. Basically, the product “can transform any item into something entirely beautiful,” the company says. These loose crystal elements can be embedded in a limitless range of products, each of which carries the “Made with CRYSTALLIZED Swarovski Elements” tag. Think of this as the fashion equivalent of the computer industry’s memorable “Intel Inside” campaign.

The result is almost overwhelming. Swarovski is showing up in products from the sublime to the ridiculous. How do you even begin to think about haute couture crystal-encrusted dresses, handbags and shoes in the same way as rhinestone license plates, iPod cases, cell phone faceplates, personalized baby bottles, pet collars, Havaianas flip flops and Phillips Swarovski-encrusted USB flash drives? And if you’re thirsty, try a bottle of outrageously expensive Bling H20—it’s water packaged in bottles encrusted with Swarovski crystals. You can even use CRYSTALLIZED Swarovski Elements to create your own products.

With all this, one might well question whether Swarovski has gone too far. But competitors recognize the company’s gift for marketing and they have followed suit. Waterford, the Irish company long known for its crystal, has dramatically expanded its product line in recent years. While it offers a range of crystal items, including collectibles and limited editions, the Waterford brand name now appears on fine china, flatware, perfume, and table and bed linens.

Despite Swarovski’s trendy, glitzy side, there remains a significant group of people who take its reputation for quality very seriously. The Swarovski Crystal Society, which began in 1987 as the Swarovski Collectors Society, today has more than 400,000 members in 35 countries worldwide. These enthusiasts receive a quarterly magazine and can purchase annual editions and exclusive products.

If you are not quite ready to own the brand, you can still interact with it up close—if you visit the Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds) in Wattens. Swarovski calls it “a guided tour through a sensual kaleidoscope.” CNN says it is “as fascinating as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.” Swarovski Kristallwelten attracts 700,000 visitors annually. It is second only to Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace as the most visited tourist attraction in Austria.

There is little Swarovski hasn’t thought of. It is crystal clear this brand has every sparkling facet of marketing covered.


Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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