I know it's a little blurry (sorry), but it says "Girl's night out just got cancelled" and it's attached to the ring like a gift tag and signed "Simon G" (the name of the jewelry company).
It's that time of year when men everywhere are being told that the only thing their girlfriends/wives/mothers/sisters/women walking near them on the street want is jewelry, jewelry, and more jewelry.
A lot of women really like jewelry, as do a lot of men, but the rhetoric surrounding these ads--especially during the holidays--gets to be pretty extreme.
And half the time they don't even make sense to me.
What is this ad trying to say? Is the "gift" of a cancelled girl's night out for the man who is purchasing this (after all, the gift giver is the jewelry shop)? Does that mean that his motivation for buying this ring is to keep his woman "in line" and make sure she isn't going out to have fun without him?
Or is the "gift" of a cancelled girl's night out for the woman who receives this ring? In that case, does that mean that she doesn't actually want a girl's night out, but she has to keep up the facade to make her lover jealous enough to purchase expensive things for her and now--finally--with this sparkly piece of jewelry on her finger, she can sit at home like she's always wanted?
I don't understand the message, but I'm pretty sure it's problematic either way.
In order to figure out where this billboard fits in the world of jewelry ads, I went and took a look at a bunch of them. I found they tend to fall into a few categories that help me make sense of this billboard.
One of the most common themes is that jewelry equals love.
The "Jewelry=LOVE" theme is probably the most traditional, and it really works pretty well. But companies cannot just rest on their laurels. They have to constantly be growing their target market. That's why the rise of powerful women who could purchase their own jewelry brought a new type of marketing. The most obvious was the "right hand ring" campaign.
Here, women are encouraged to purchase their own diamonds in an act of empowerment, but the ads play directly into the already socially entrenched dichotomy of women as nurturers v. women as powerhouses. "Your left hand rocks the cradles. Your right hand rules the world." "Your left hand wants to be held. Your right hand wants to be held high." Perhaps I should give the advertising campaign some credit for recognizing that both of these ambitions can be captured inside of one body, but then I remember that their only reason for recognizing that is so they can profit off of turning an insecurity into a statement of independence, so I feel less charitable.
The Bottom Line
It's very telling that most jewelry ads are aimed at women even though there is no shortage of jewelry designed for men. The jewelry market's profit depends largely on two things: women thinking that jewelry is important and men thinking that women think jewelry is important.
So I think what happened in the billboard I saw is that the advertisers tried to combine the themes of love and power. They knew that women going out to a "girl's night" is a symbol of female empowerment (though why it can't just be a symbol of drinking some good margaritas and laughing is beyond me) and that a ring is a symbol of love. They took the dichotomy of the "right-hand" ring campaign a little too far and are now trying to play the two against one another. If your woman goes and buys herself a ring to feel empowered, well, buy her another one so that she remembers who is in charge. If that makes her go out and buy her own ring to counter the one that you bought her, well, then I guess you'll just have to buy another one. Guess who gets rich.
Jewelry stores are now trying to deal with the fallout from their own competing narratives. When jewelry meant love and men were the default purchasers, the ads all fell in line with that narrative. Once jewelers recognized that women can make money and purchases, too, they switched the narrative to try to capitalize on that market, and now they're having to fight their own story in order to remind men that they still need to be buying the sparkles as well.
To be fair, I guess "Rocks: if you want them, buy them. If s/he wants them, buy them for him/her" isn't really very catchy.