Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How Diamonds became Forever

It was in 1947 when the real-life copywriter Frances Gerety coined the phrase “A Diamond Is Forever.”

As Ms. Gerety recalled in a 1988 interview, she had just finished a series of ads and was headed to bed when she realized that she had forgotten to create a signature line. Exhausted, she said “Dear God, send me a line,” and scribbled something on a slip of paper. When she woke up and saw what she had written, she thought it was just O.K.
A few hours later, she presented her idea at a meeting. According to her, “Nobody jumped.”

It’s hard to imagine a time when diamond engagement rings were not the norm. Last year, Americans spent almost $7 billion on the rings. But in 1938, when a De Beers representative wrote to N. W. Ayer to inquire whether “the use of propaganda in various forms” might boost the sale of diamonds in the United States, their popularity had been on a downward trend, in part because of the Depression.
N.W. Ayer conducted extensive surveys of consumer attitudes and found that most Americans thought diamonds were a luxury for the ultra-wealthy. Women wanted their men to spend money on “a washing machine, or a new car, anything but an engagement ring,” Ms. Gerety said in 1988. “It was considered just absolutely money down the drain.”

Still, the agency set an ambitious goal: “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”
“Sentiment is essential to your advertising, as it is to your product,” it counseled De Beers in a memo, “for the emotional connotation of the diamond is the one competitive advantage which no other product can claim or dispute.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Gerety was busy making sure average consumers saw diamonds everywhere. Her theory was that “the big ones sell the little ones.”
In the 1950s, N. W. Ayer started lending jewels to socialites and starlets for the Academy Awards and the Kentucky Derby. The campaign was a success from the start. After just two years, the sale of diamonds in the United States increased by 55 percent. In its 1951 annual report, N. W. Ayer noted that, “for a number of years we have found evidence that the diamond engagement ring tradition is consistently growing stronger. Jewelers now tell us ‘a girl is not engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring.’ ”
A Diamond Is Forever,” has appeared in every De Beers engagement ad since 1948. In 1999, two weeks before the never married Ms. Gerety died at the age of 83, Advertising Age named it the slogan of the century.