Nothing embodies the idea of commitment like a diamond ring. It’s fitting, then, that De Beers, the largest miner and distributer of diamonds, has stuck with the same advertising campaign for more than 50 years. “A Diamond Is Forever,” after all—and so is a genius slogan. These four small words not only helped save an industry in decline, but also changed the bedrock of American culture.
We take it for granted now, but diamond rings were not always the centerpiece of an engagement proposal. By the late 1930s, diamonds were considered luxuries and sales were low. A society suffering from the Great Depression had a greater interest in practical items, like vacuum cleaners or cars, rather than extravagant jewelry. The association of diamonds and eternal love was simply nonexistent. Meanwhile, war-time and eventually post-war Europe was no marketplace for such an extravagant good. De Beers needed an economy where consumers felt that they could afford—and would be willingly to buy—their diamonds.
But how do you market to a people who neither need nor want your product?
Enter N. W. Ayer. De Beers hired the marketing firm in 1938, and Frances Gerety joined the account in 1943. For the next four years, she wrote ads that proposed the idea of a diamond’s timelessness. The connotation that diamonds represent permanence comes naturally—the word ‘diamond’ comes from the Greek word for “unbreakable.” Relating this durability to a couple’s everlasting love is a simple logical step from there.
Even so, when Gerety finally pitched “A Diamond Is Forever” in 1947, she didn’t even think the slogan was particularly inspired. It would take another year before it appeared in an actual ad, but once it did, it resonated so deeply with the American public that by 1951, 80 percent of all brides wore a diamond engagement ring. Since then, De Beers has used the slogan in every marketing campaign, albeit occasionally with a few tweaks to keep the idea fresh with contemporary culture.
What makes the slogan so timeless is its appeal to our sentimental side. By associating diamonds with eternal love, De Beers positioned diamonds as a necessary representation of a couple’s relationship. No engagement, no marriage could be considered complete without one. Later ads would also appeal to a man’s sense of power and wealth by stipulating that the cost of an engagement ring should equal about two months worth of salary. N. W. Ayer tapped into the people’s psyche and has remained there ever since.
What N. W. Ayer and De Beers couldn’t have known at the time was how effective their slogan would come to be. In 1956, Ian Fleming published a James Bond novel called, “Diamonds Are Forever.” Fifteen years later, Sean Connery starred in the movie of the same name. N. W. Ayer’s campaign relied heavily on Hollywood to romanticize diamonds. Celebrity gossip focused on the sizes of starlets’ diamonds. Books, movies, and art in general both represent culture and inform it. By incorporating this idea of diamonds and eternity, Hollywood reinforced De Beers advertising.
The phrase is now so ingrained in American society that many people likely do not even realize it came from an ad campaign in the first place. Even though it’s been more than a decade since the press first exposed the horror of blood diamonds, seventy-five percent of brides still wear a diamond engagement ring. America is committed to its diamonds.
And that is the sheer brilliance of the ad. De Beers’ campaign didn’t just change their profit for one quarter or even one year—it changed a culture and thus determined its profit for decades to come. N. W. Ayer took a failing product and made it an integral symbol of love and marriage. The most effective advertising doesn’t just sell a product; it sells a behavior; it promotes a lifestyle. And that is why diamonds will always be forever.
Sources: NY Times, Hubspot, Yahoo Finance, Washington Post, the Atlantic