Pi Attitude Zone: Material Status

Until The Twelfth Of Never

It gave new meaning to the term “consumer engagement”.  The trade magazine Advertising Age has called it “the slogan of the century”.  The De Beers diamond company launched its strapline “A Diamond Is Forever” in 1948, and has used it in every ad for engagement rings since that date.

Advertising has been described as a practice that sells people things they don’t want and don’t need at prices they can’t afford.  Advertisers have denied the crime, based on the argument that it is impossible: consumers are too smart to be duped in that way, they insist.  Yet the selling of diamond engagement rings made a long-term triumph of getting people to buy something originally unwanted and un-needed with an exorbitant price-tag – without even the benefit of a prominently featured brand name.  Diamonds have become a “brand” in their own right.

De Beers has talked for over seventy years about the “tradition” of giving a diamond ring as a love-token for a couple’s engagement.  In reality, there never was such a tradition.  A century ago, the diamond as a token of betrothal did not exist.  It was a manufactured concept, dreamed up as part of a search for advertising imagery that would rescue a declining style of jewelry that had suffered falling sales for decades after the Wall Street crash of 1929. Diamonds were considered a showy extravagance for the very wealthy.  Normal consumers wouldn’t consider buying such inaccessible accessories.

Copywriter Frances Gerety worked at the ad agency NW Ayer from 1943 to 1970, and dedicated herself to just one client.  She it was who started the De Beers diamond company off on the link between diamonds and “forever”.  The audacious brilliance of the concept was that it appropriated eternity in the cause of sentiment, attaching it, well, forever to the ideas of permanence and timelessness, the notion of immortal romance.  Buy this manufactured product, the ads suggested, and your love will never end.

The famous slogan itself did not appear out of nowhere.  Previous De Beers ads from Gerety’s pen merely said “May your happiness last as long as your diamond”, or  “Wear your diamonds as the night wears its stars, ever and always . . . for their beauty is as timeless.”  It took several years for “A diamond is forever” to get into print and enter the global psyche.  Bizarrely, the line was originally rejected as being meaningless and ungrammatical.

Luckily for De Beers, Ms. Gerety stuck to her guns.  As a result, young women all over the world do not consider themselves betrothed unless they are wearing a diamond engagement ring.  That’s an unbeatable reason for wanting and needing something, even at a price your lowly-paid young intended can’t afford.  The NW Ayer ad agency was hired in 1938 to promote diamond engagement rings.  By the beginning of the 1950s, 80% of American brides wore a diamond on their finger.  The number has not wavered since.

Pi says: sometimes a concept from nowhere becomes a part of global culture.

Zone: Material Status Country: USA / North America Product –