A magazine advertisement
from the 1952 "A Diamond is Forever" De Beers campaign.
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A powerful company, a catchy slogan,
and how they forever changed the way we value diamonds.
By Barry B. Kaplan
Birth of a Legend
The prestigious US magazine, Advertising Age, in its
January 1999 edition, proclaimed "A Diamond is Forever",
the most recognized and effective slogan of the twentieth
century. Today, diamond engagement rings are commonplace,
but were it not for a single company and its drive to
dominate the diamond industry, history would have turned
Diamonds are not as rare as many people think; they
are certainly not the rarest of gemstones - that honor
goes to rubies - but they are the hardest. The illusion
of diamond scarcity and its instant association with
the concepts of romance and affluence can be traced
back to a successful meeting in New York between Harry
Oppenheimer and the president of N.W. Ayer & Son, Gerold
M. Lauck, in September 1938.
Harry Oppenheimer was the son of the founder of the
company that would become the most successful cartel
of the twentieth century - De Beers Consolidated Mines,
Ltd. The South African company incorporated in 1888,
during the burgeoning local diamond rush. At its formation
and over the ensuing years, De Beers would successfully
acquire countless interests in diamond mines and production
facilities throughout the world.
gift of love
N.W. Ayer & Son, a leading advertising agency in the
United States, and the young Oppenheimer,encouraged
by his bankers, sought to reverse the declining price
of diamonds with a well-funded advertising campaign.
Europeans were not yet taken with the idea of purchasing
engagement rings featuring diamonds as the gemstone
of choice. Moreover, impending war in Europe forced
Oppenheimer and his bankers to promote their interests
in their biggest market - the United States. At the
time of the meeting with Ayer, three quarters of the
cartel's diamonds were being sold there. But difficulties
beleaguered this market too; diamonds were of an inferior
quality to those sold in Europe, and prices were low
- an average of $80 per stone.
Oppenheimer told Ayer that De Beers had not approached
any other agencies and that if Ayer's plan was accepted,
it would become the exclusive agency for promoting De
Beers' interests in the United States. This shrewd tactic
proved to be a strong motivating factor for N.W. Ayer,
and after extensive research, the agency proposed a
campaign to "channel American spending toward larger
and more expensive diamonds".
To achieve this goal, Ayer further recommended strengthening
the association of diamonds with romance. Young men,
who purchased 90% of engagement rings, would be bombarded
with the idea that diamonds were the gift of love. The
first campaign aimed at men was launched in 1939 emphasizing
the male's business savvy. Women, too, would be targeted
with the idea that no courtship would be complete without
a sparkling diamond. Famous houses of worship were featured
in follow up advertisements, establishing a link between
diamonds and the sacred tradition of a religious wedding.