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The Blog

Home The BlogThe Most Brilliant Advertising Campaign of All Time: A Diamond Is Forever

The Most Brilliant Advertising Campaign of All Time: A Diamond Is Forever

The 1930s was a bad decade for the diamond industry: the price of diamond had declined worldwide. Europe was in the verge of another war and the idea of a diamond engagement ring didn't take hold. Indeed, engagement rings were considered a luxury and when given, they rarely contained diamonds. In 1938, De Beers engaged N.W. Ayer & Son, the first advertising agency in the United States, to change the image of diamonds in America. The ad agency suggested a clever ad campaign to link diamonds to romance in the public's mind. To do this, they placed diamonds in the fingers of Hollywood stars and suggested stories to newspapers on how diamond rings symbolized romance. Even high school students were targeted:
N. W. Ayer outlined a subtle program that included arranging for lecturers to visit high schools across the country. "All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions," the agency explained in a memorandum to De Beers. The agency had organized, in 1946, a weekly service called "Hollywood Personalities," which provided 125 leading newspapers with descriptions of the diamonds worn by movie stars. [...] The idea was to create prestigious "role models" for the poorer middle-class wage-earners. The advertising agency explained, in its 1948 strategy paper, "We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer's wife and the mechanic's sweetheart say 'I wish I had what she has.'" (Source)
In 1948, an N.W. Ayer copywriter named Frances Gerety, had a flash of inspiration and came up with the slogan "A Diamond is Forever." It's a fitting slogan, because it reminds people that it is a memorial to love, and as such, must stay forever in the family, never to be sold (see below). Ironically, Gerety never married and died a spinster. (Source) But equating diamonds with romance wasn't enough. Toward the end of the 1950s, N.W. Ayer found that the Americans were ready for the next logical step, making a diamond ring a necessary element in betrothal:
"Since 1939 an entirely new generation of young people has grown to marriageable age," it said. "To this new generation a diamond ring is considered a necessity to engagements by virtually everyone." The message had been so successfully impressed on the minds of this generation that those who could not afford to buy a diamond at the time of their marriage would "defer the purchase" rather than forgo it. (Source)
Then the clever ad agency went one step further. N.W. Ayers noted that when women were involved in the selection of the engagement ring, they tended to pick cheaper rings. So De Beers encouraged the "surprise" engagement, with men picking the diamond on their own (with the clear message that the more expensive the stone, the better he'll look in the eyes of a woman). They even gave clueless men a guideline: American men should spend two months wages, whereas Japanese men should spend three. Why? Because they can:
But the guidelines differed by nation. A "two months' salary" equivalent was touted in the United States, whereas men in Great Britain got off the hook with only one month. Japan's expectation was set the highest, at three months. I asked a De Beers representative why the Japanese were told to spend so much compared to the Americans or the English. "We were, quite frankly, trying to bid them up," he answered. (Source: The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire by Tom Zoellner)
In 1939, when De Beers engaged N.W. Ayer to change the way the American public view diamonds, its annual sales of the gem was $23 million. By 1979, the ad agency had helped De Beers expand its sales to more than $2.1 billion (Source). An #engagement ring is worn on the third finget of th left hand as the vein in that finger ran directly to the heart
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