In 1999, Advertising Age magazine described ‘A Diamond is Forever’ as the “best advertising slogan” of the twentieth century. This is no understatement, for that iconic one-liner not only dramatically improved the status symbol of the gemstones from the 1950s onwards but also cemented the diamond solitaire as the standard token of love and betrothal in the psyche of the Western world.
Such has been its enduring success that Forevermark, the diamond brand within the fold of the De Beers group and a company that takes its name from that very slogan, has relaunched ‘A Diamond is Forever’ as part of its 2015 festive season marketing campaign. The rationale for reintroducing what is essentially a 68-year-old marketing campaign, at least according to a recently issued press release, is that research undertaken by Forevermark indicates that the saying still remains relevant to key target consumers. “This market research revealed the slogan is still associated with timeless love and com- mitment, the pillars upon which the Forevermark brand stands. The line equally provides a rational reassurance to consumers.”
While the revitalised campaign will, no doubt, meet with success, particularly in North America, where the marketing programme has been launched and where the notion of enduring love is still firmly ingrained in the psyche of many, it is far more interesting to reflect on who came up with the century’s most popular one-liner and why it has had such an enormous impact on the diamond jewellery trade. However, as with most iconic narratives, the roots of this story extend much further back than 1947, the year the phrase was first coined.
In the earliest days of mining, diamonds had virtually sold themselves and there had been little need to persuade people to buy them. All that was really needed, as the pioneer diamond magnates realised, was careful control over production so that the market did not become flooded and the stones retained both a decent price and their rare luxury status. However, the Great Depression dealt the industry a massive blow, with demand for all luxury items virtually evaporating in the wake of what is still considered the world’s most severe economic collapse. By the mid-1930s, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, undoubtedly the greatest diamond strategist of all time, understood that, if De Beers was to restore confidence and boost the diamond trade again, he would have to undertake a massive advertising campaign. He delegated this task to his son, who himself had a natural affinity for the sparkling gems. (In an interview, Harry Oppenheimer was once asked if he had any preference between gold and diamonds. “Yes, diamonds every time,” was his reply. “I think people buy diamonds out of vanity and they buy gold because they’re too stupid to think of any other monetary system which will work – and I think vanity is probably a more attractive motive than stupidity.”)
As North America had absorbed more than half of De Beers’ production before the Great Depression, Harry Oppenheimer decided that the US would be the best bet for a focused marketing campaign. So, in1938, he travelled to New York City to meet with Gerald Lauck, president of America’s oldest and most prestigious advertising firm, NW Ayer. (Interestingly, the firm was founded in Philadelphia in 1869 and started its business representing religious weekly newspapers.)
NW Ayer would prove to be an inspired choice, as it fundamentally understood that consumers were made, not born, and that image was everything in the world of advertising.
According to historian Stefan Kanfer's book, Last Empire, during the initial stages of the marketing campaign, the firm homed in on America’s dream factory, convincing Hollywood producers to change the title of a 1940 film from Diamonds are Dangerous to Adventure in Diamonds and arranging actresses such as Merle Oberon to flaunt their jewels on screen. The firm also provided American newspapers with stories with headlines such as ‘War gives impetus to diamond cutting’ and ‘How diamonds spark the wings of war and peace’.
Following the Allied Victory in World War II, the firm was given an increased budget and a goal that now went beyond selling the concept of diamonds as a desirable luxury to entrenching the tradition of the diamond engagement ring, making it a “psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services”.
It was for this more focused marketing campaign that the slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’ was devised. The slogan was coined by Frances Gerety a copywriter who spent her career with the Philadelphia advertising agency. For 25 years, she dedicated herself to one client, De Beers, and was responsible for writing all its advertisements.
According to Gerety, the iconic one-liner was coined on more of a whim than any-thing else. She had just finished a series of advertisements for De Beers and was about to get into bed when she realised that she had forgotten to create the signature line. Exhausted, she said: “Dear God, send me a line”, and scribbled something on a slip of paper. She conveyed the slogan to her colleagues during a routine meeting the next morning. At first, it was not well received, with her colleagues arguing that it did not really mean anything. Gerety herself did not think the line was one of her best either. “I shudder to think of what might have happened if a great line had been demanded,” she wrote in a letter some 40 years later.
Despite the firm’s initial attitudes, the client liked it and, more importantly, Western world popular culture became enthralled by it, evidenced by the fact that, while just under half of engaged American women were presented with a diamond ring by their fiancés in 1947, by the end of the 1950s, that figure had increased to include 80% of all women. This ratio has been roughly maintained ever since.
More than inspiring a desire for diamond engagement rings, the slogan essentially proved that advertising agencies could sell a product to the masses that they most likely did not want and definitely did not need, and do it so well that that particular product would become ingrained in popular culture in perpetuity. If there is anything that this particular story can teach us, it is: Never underestimate the power of the one-liner.