the engagement diamond – tradition or marketing?

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it;
if you can dream it, you can become it.”

– William Arthur Ward

Gerold M. Lauck, the president of N. W. Ayer (a leading advertising agency in the US) was approached in September of 1938 by Harry Oppenheimer son of the founder of DeBeers. Oppenheimer offered Lauck exclusive rights to US media and seed money to research the market. The result was the engagement diamond. The act of giving a diamond when proposing was a purely marketing strategy perpetuated with smart use of television shows and Hollywood movies as advertising media.

Rough early timeline of the campaign:

  • 1888, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. incorporated in South Africa (The cartel)
  • 1919, end of WW I, total amount of Diamonds sold in US declined by 50%
  • 1938, N. W. Ayer approached by Harry Oppenheimer
  • 1941, US diamond sale up by 55%
  • 1947, N. W. Ayer emphasizes psychological approach in future advertising
  • 1948, N. W. Ayer copywriter came up with “A Diamond is Forever”
  • 1951, Campaign to make Diamond as a symbol of betrothal.
  • 1960’s, Campaign to internationalize Diamonds (Japan, Germany and Brazil)
  • 1967, Diamond campaign begins in Japan
  • 1970’s, Billion-Dollar-A-Year market in Japan
  • 1981, 60% of married Japanese women wore diamonds

Some early strategies:

  • Lecturers sent to schools and colleges to influence young girls
  • Hollywood stars making Diamonds the jewelry of choice
  • Queen Elizabeth goes on a tour of the Diamond mines and accepts a Diamond from Oppenheimer to be included in the crown jewels
  • Newsletter to 125 news agencies reporting types of Diamonds worn by celebrities
  • Commissioned portraits of “socialites” wearing Diamonds
  • Established the “Diamond information center”
  • Color ads (yes it was a big deal back then)

The campaign is not over in any sense of the word, the new markets targeted are the growing economies of China and India with film stars playing brand ambassadors for DeBeers.

The campaign was so successful that towards the end of 1950’s N. W. Ayer had reported to DeBeers that the younger generation that could not afford a diamond during the time of marriage would “defer the purchase” instead of forgoing it completely.

Marketing lesson: A consistent message that is tweaked and adapted regularly is a very effective way to ensure success of any campaign. This lesson has been learn by many firms over the years and yielded success for them. Though consistency is expected from any campaign today it is such a basic value that it might be forgotten and that would be a huge mistake. Read more about the Diamond story here Have you ever tried to sell a diamond? – The Atlantic.

Until next time



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