Diamonds – A Marketing Campaign Miracle

The truth about diamonds
Source: Pixabay

If someone says the word “diamonds, you might instantly be compelled to respond with “are forever.” This alone is proof positive of how deeply embedded into the human psyche diamonds have become.

The mere sight of them triggers thoughts of incredible value, making all but the most stony-hearted swoon at their sheer beauty. Stop for a moment now; think of a diamond in your head. Your imagination has surely conjured up an image of a glittering gem that dazzles in its brilliance and is worth a small fortune.

This is the psychology of diamonds.

Only, in reality, it turns out that diamonds are not particularly valuable at all. Firstly, they are not rare. Other stones such as Morganite, Tanzanite and Topaz are far rarer. Secondly, they have virtually no use at all beyond certain specific industries, as they are one of the hardest substances known to man and score a 10 out of 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale. Yet, they are enormously valued by the average person who has literally no practical use for them at all.

So, why are diamonds seen as valuable? The reason is, perhaps one of the most incredible marketing campaigns in history, which still powers on to this very day. The truth is that diamonds are mostly worthless, and if common sense prevailed, everyone would stop buying them.

The Ancient Ritual Of Engagement Rings

Many are under the impression that engagement rings are long running tradition, surely stretching back centuries into the very roots of our civilisation. Rings, studded with diamonds, must be bought in order to propose marriage. Our ancient ancestors were doing it, and the concept of marriage is virtually inseparable from the ritual of spending a small fortune on a ring.

The truth is that the concept of the diamond engagement ring has only been around for roughly a century, and can directly be attributed to the De Beers diamond syndicate. Although the idea of the ring itself has indeed been ingrained into ancient history, those rings did not have diamonds on them until far more recently. Prior to the Second World War, it is estimated that less than 10% of all rings bought for a marriage proposal had a diamond in them.

Investigations have revealed that De Beers went to astonishing lengths in their marketing campaign in the early 1900s, embedding the idea of purchasing a ring, with a diamond, as a means to propose marriage. But we’ll get to that later.

A Good Investment?

Another common misconception is that diamonds are a smart investment. Which is to say; it is believed that putting money into a diamond ring is a smart financial move. On the contrary, it is estimated that upon an engagement ring being bought, it instantly drops around 50% of its value the moment it leaves the jewellery store.

This obviously means that there is zero financial sense in buying a ring with the intention of keeping money safely invested. So once again, these stones have no real value. Bewildered, and perhaps even a little annoyed now?

Let’s take a look now at how it all happened…

The Marketing Plot

A now-renowned article by Edward Jay Epstein details how, in 1947, De Beers employed a fleet of lecturers across the United States that targeted schools. These lectures were only part of an extraordinary campaign that targeted nothing short of 70 million United States citizens of all income brackets, with a strong focus on females over the age of 15. At each school a lecture was delivered, with a deep psychological approach, specifically linking the concepts of love and marriage to the glittering stones.

Untold millions were spent on this campaign, and still are to this very day. Keep in mind, once again, that prior to the 1900’s there was no strong link between diamond engagement rings and marriage.

So, why did De Beers take this unprecedented approach?

It seems that British investors of the industry made an unwelcome discovery, and it threatened to collapse what had been a multimillion-dollar investment.

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De Beers Is Born – False Rarity

So let’s go back a few years, prior to the marketing campaign.

As already said, diamonds are not rare. This reality came about in 1870, when a discovery was made in Southern Africa. A stunning amount of diamonds was discovered, and the writing was on the wall for the industry. It became clear that if the new wave of the not-so-precious stones was allowed to flood the market, there would be a saturation, devaluing what had previously been a rare commodity.

The situation was tackled by monopolising the industry, which was achieved by creating De Beers Consolidated Mines, with Chairman Ernest Oppenheimer at the helm. De Beers now owned all the diamonds in the world, and then stockpiled them, selling only small amount to the public, and so creating artificial rarity.

Controlling Demand

Controlling supply of a commodity is one thing, but in order to truly make a market flourish, controlling demand is equally as important. To this end, De Beers knew that a marketing campaign was needed beyond anything that had been seen before. Not only because the stones they were trying to peddle did not have much general appeal, but also because the global economy at that time was under severe strain, due to an on going war.

So in 1938 they turned their attention to the United States, which they felt had the most potential to support a new, previously unpopular concept. A concept that they intended on introducing. Namely, everyone should own diamonds, but that they should only do so because they were so highly prized. De Beers then contacted an advertising agency, N.W. Ayer, located in Philadelphia.

Extensive Marketing Approach

The main reason that N.W Ayer was chosen was due to their unique approach to the campaign. The company went about conducting an exhaustive amount of research into the perception of the stones in the eyes of United States citizens at the time. What was revealed was that, overwhelmingly, stones of this sort were viewed as only being status symbols for the wealthy. Lower income citizens saw no reason at all to spend large sums of money, not for marriage proposals, or any reason other than on sensible purchases. Such as cars and houses.

Hence, N.W. Ayer knew that this perception would have to be changed, and on a massive scale. They sought to create an environment where not only would the rings be bought, but that they would also never be sold. This was essential; given that, as already mentioned, the stones have an unattractive resale value, which would be sure to put buyers off.

The quintessential engagement ring
Source: Pixabay

Initial Market Seeding

The first steps taken were to seed the idea that diamonds were the new hot trend in the country. This was done via radio and newspaper, pushing the notion that well-known celebrities were proposing marriage using diamond-studded rings. Multiple other stories were published linking fashion to the new trend, and radio shows were paid to comment on the trend as it rose in the public consciousness.

The important part of the initial campaign, during the first half of the 1900s, was that the rings themselves were not being punted, for the most part. Only the ideas and concepts of romance around them. The De Beers branded adverts that did exist offered educational information about how diamonds should be bought. These instructions explained that the clarity, colour and cut of the stone were most important. But most specifically, the instructions informed, that if a good purchase was made, the buyer could be proud of it no matter the size.

Diamonds Are Forever

The initial campaign saw major success, with around a 50% increase in sales in just a few years. But it was not until the 1940’s and 1950’s that De Beers made the final iconic push that solidified them in the American psyche. It was during this time that the previously mentioned lectures were delivered at schools, under the basis that the talks were educational and of benefit to school children.

Then, in 1948, Frances Gerety came up with the line that would define De Beers until this very day. Diamonds are forever. The ultimate declaration of everything that had been pushed for up until that time, the sentence that, in just 3 words, put across the idea of marriage, love and a long lasting relationship. Interestingly, the phrase was at first not met with much enthusiasm from the marketing department, but still managed to make it into an advertisement. Once the advert hit the general public, and the incredible resonation it had with American residents was seen, the phrase was extended to all future marketing. Since then, not one advert has been released that did not include this slogan.

It need not be pointed out that www.adiamondisforever.com will redirect you to the official De Beers website, proving that the campaign has never fizzled out, and still exists to this very day. This makes the campaign not only the longest running in history, but also one that has been fine tuned to perfection.

We have to admit that the campaign has worked on so many levels and has played deeply on our psychology, but even if they are worth far less previously imagined, there is no denying that diamonds have an allure all of their own, and are beautiful to look at, and to wear!