An Ad That Created a Tradition

  • 2 min read

These days, no engagement can ever be complete without the sparkle of a diamond. Diamonds are neither the rarest (they are more common than other gemstones) nor are they great investments. Yet this shiny piece of compressed graphite is seen as an everlasting bond of love or a show of commitment.

How did the diamond get co-related to the everlasting bonds of love? The answer: It's all thanks to great marketing. More surprisingly, it's all thanks to a century-old marketing campaign (by DeBeers).

In the 1900s, the correlation between diamonds and engagement was a weak one. The diamonds were getting smaller and of low quality. DeBeers recruited NW Ayer — a marketing agency that ran a genius content marketing campaign for its times.

Influencer marketing.

The agency identified influencers such as movie stars to flaunt big diamond rings. Articles in news, magazines and tabloids were filled with stories about glitzy engagements and glitzier rocks. In a widely publicized event, Queen Elizabeth visited a South African diamond mine and was presented a diamond by Sir Oppenheimer (co-founder of Debeers).

Classic marketing campaign.

In 1947, DeBeers launched a marketing campaign with a tag line used ever since — "A Diamond is Forever".

Global Adaptation of the marketing campaign.

J Walter Thompson (JWT), a leading creative marketing agency, partnered with De Beers to take its iconic campaign global. The success in re-defining tradition followed in almost all geographies. In Japan, the proportion of women who received a diamond ring during engagements was 6% in the 1960s. The number went up to 77% in the 1990s thanks mainly to the global marketing campaign. (Source: Statista )

Return on marketing investments.

Technically, a diamond is not "forever". It may be one of the hardest substances on earth, but it is prone to chipping and breakage. Yet the campaign captured the emotions of millions of young women (and men?) globally.

In 1940, in the US, only 10% of first-time brides were receiving diamond engagement rings, while in 1990 that number skyrocketed to 80%. A brilliant return on investment for DeBeers.

In 2019, Bain Consulting Group valued the diamond jewelry business as an $80 billion industry. DeBeers no longer commands the market share it once did, and NW Ayer shut shop after 133 years in existence. But the advertisement, the tag-line, and most importantly the idea of intertwining love and diamonds has survived and thrived.

If you have to or had to shell out a significant amount for the diamond ring OR if you received one big rock on your big day, do remember to thank (or curse) the brilliant copywriters and marketers at NW Ayer and DeBeers back in the day.

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