A Diamond is Forever: How Clever Marketing Created One of the Greatest Myths of the 20th Century

It’s no secret that millennials aren’t as into diamonds as the generations which preceded them. There are even claims millennials are killing the diamond industry.

There has been a trend in recent years of forgoing the ‘traditional’ diamond rings in favor of rings using other precious stones. But even so, the jewel is practically synonymous with our modern concepts of love and romance, leading numerous people to using a diamond guide in search of the most valuable diamonds.

Diamonds are created from carbon, one of the most abundant materials on our planet, so what was it that made diamonds so popular in the first place?

The rise of diamonds is inextricably linked with one company. De Beers.

In the late 1930’s when the price of diamonds was falling throughout Europe, a group of British businessmen in South Africa hatched a plan to reinvent the diamond as a symbol of status and luxury. To achieve their vision, they developed a business plan which allowed them control over both supply and demand of diamonds.

Then in 1947, they turned their attention toward the United States, and launched one of the cleverest campaigns in marketing history.

Working with a Philadelphia based advertising agency, De Beers created the slogan “A Diamond is Forever.”

Of course, a diamond isn’t forever. It can be shattered, crushed or cut. But it wasn’t the literal strength of a diamond that De Beers was trying to sell the public. Their forever was more a sentimental affair, they wanted the public to start seeing the diamond as a symbol of eternal love.

The plan was to orchestrate a situation where almost every American about to propose to their sweetheart felt compelled to purchase a diamond engagement ring.

To do this, the agency, N.W. Ayer, first began using celebrities as a method for placing diamonds in the public eye. But what they did next is what truly helped to create the lasting impression of the diamond as an emblem of love.

Using the traditional media streams of the 20th Century, N.W. Ayer’s then employed innovative marketing techniques that we see used more in advertising today. Writing advertorials into newspapers and providing consumers with educational information as well as selling their product.

The result of all these canny promotions was of course the massively successful diamond jewelry industry that we all know today, and the enduring myth that nothing else says “everlasting love” like a diamond ring.

While sales of diamonds have begun to slow, globally, this is partly due to the trend of ethical consumerism, rather than any dilution of the symbolic message that De Beers manufactured decades ago.

Many socially conscious consumers are aware of the issues that plague the African diamond industry, such as child labor, unsafe working conditions, and twelve to fifteen hour days. These shoppers choose to either forgo diamonds altogether, or invest in man-made diamonds, created in laboratories, but indistinguishable from those occurring in nature.

With shifts like these, it’s unlikely that diamonds will ever go out of fashion. A diamond might not really be forever, but the myth that De Beers created is probably here to stay.


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