By Michelle Graff

A number of creative advertising campaigns have emerged in the jewelry industry lately that share a similar theme: companies eschewing the use of models and orchestrated photo shoots in favor of using their customers to represent their product.

Bridal brand Ritani has its “Real Moments” campaign, in which it asks its customers to submit photos of themselves wearing Ritani jewelry for a chance to be featured in the brand’s national advertising campaign.

The campaign also has a smart social marketing twist. The contest is held through Ritani’s Facebook page. Anybody that wants to enter must first “like” Ritani; in this way, the contest serves as a driver of Facebook traffic and “fans” for the brand on the social networking site.

Swiss watchmaker Baume & Mercier also went the real route for its 2011-2012 advertising campaign. It is centered around the theme “seaside living in the Hamptons” and is intended to convey the Baume motto, “Life is about moments.”

For the ads, Baume & Mercier skipped models and opted instead to hire a professional photographer to shoot real families interacting on the beach in East Hampton, N.Y. A movie of the campaign and a “making of” video are available on Baume & Mercier’s Web site. (I don’t think the song used in the videos really fits the theme or the setting but the making of video is a nice peek behind the scenes.)

Most recently, retailer Robbins Brothers announced the launch of its “Share the Love” campaign. They’re asking people to submit fantastic proposal videos for the chance to win $1,000 and be featured in the next Robbins Brothers’ commercial.

This is not the first time Robbins Brothers has reached out its customer base to cast its commercials. Back in 2009, they did a video-submission marketing campaign called “Welcome to the Rest of Your Life” and eventually made TV commercials out of a montage of video submissions strung together. You can see the commercials--and all the online chatter they generated--here on YouTube.

Tracey Lyles, media services manager for the Azusa, Calif.-based chain, said the reason the retailer is asking people to Share and then giving them a starring role in their commercial: “The advantages of using customers in our commercials is that it’s more relatable for the viewing audience.”

It’s true that featuring “real” people -- people you might work alongside, ride the bus with or see everyday in your neighborhood Starbucks -- has wide appeal.

I remember one of my journalism school professors telling us what the most popular magazine in the world was: People. Why? The professor explained that it’s because people like seeing pictures of and reading about other people, period, and not just famous folks but regular, everyday people like themselves.

One also would have to assume that, in most cases, these companies are saving themselves money by forgoing paid models and elaborate photo shoots. It’s a smart way to go in an uncertain economy and a great example of how to utilize the advantages the Internet has to offer.

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