“Ads as Stories” is a series devoted to analyzing different advertising campaigns as acts of storytelling, and breaking down the narrative being told.
If you are in a room with other people right now, it is very likely that many of them could be wearing diamond rings. Chances are, you might even be one of them. However, you may not know that all of this is because of one woman who, with a single sentence, became responsible for creating an industry that sells $60 billion of jewelry each year, alone.
In 1948, the diamond company De Beers promised advertising agency N.W. Ayer that it would become the exclusive marketing firm for the company in the United States if it could find a way to get Americans to buy diamonds, which weren’t very popular at the time. The market had dwindled greatly in Europe during World War 2, and didn’t look to be coming back anytime soon, so the company looked to the United States to keep the diamond trade alive while prices continued to plummet, due to a low demand.
In order to boost prices again, the plan was to get Americans to buy larger and more expensive diamonds. This was no small feat. And a great challenge, as it would take convincing the public to buy, en masse, a product that they didn’t need, or even necessarily want, at great cost.
At the time, Frances Gerety was working as a copywriter for N.W. Ayer. She was the only woman on staff. Every copywriter in the firm was writing hundreds of lines, trying to find one that could capture the imagination of the American public. Eventually, Gerety wrote four simple words: A Diamond Is Forever. This slogan would appear in every De Beers advertisement for diamonds from that moment onward, to this day.
The campaign sends a simple, but elegant message to consumers: diamonds are love. It ties the ideas of romance and eternity together in one simple package. Ads targeted women by promising that a diamond would bring longevity to their relationships, while other ads would target a male demographic by using the diamond as a symbol of power that must acquired by “real” men in their relationships. One such ad compared the act of buying a diamond to building a city.
The promise, no matter how dishonest, was that if one bought a diamond, their relationships would last forever, just like a diamond. This eventually led to the widespread idea that a girl is not engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring.
These four words marked the beginning of an ideological change in advertising. They didn’t attempt to directly sell a diamond to the customer. They made no claims of actual quality. This new strategy, unique at the time, was one where you didn’t sell a product, but an idea. It was an attempt to connect with consumers on an emotional level, and boy did it succeed.
Because of this slogan, diamonds are far and away most used gem in jewelry. Nearly all engagement rings for women involve a diamond, and the same goes for wedding rings. The diamond has become a staple of society.
Because of this slogan, De Beers owned 90% of the diamond market share at its height. These four words became the equivalent of $10 billion a year for an item that is virtually worthless.
That’s the power of advertising. That’s the power of storytelling. And that is why they are the same thing.