Diamond in the Rough: An $80 Billion Dollar a Year Industry Forged from PR

An illustration of DeBeers diamond mine at 800 feet underground. (The Popular Science Monthly)

If I sold you on the idea that a diamond ring could lead to romance, would you believe me?

Well, DeBeers and its advertising agency N.W. Ayers convinced Post-Depression couples of just that! What’s more, the company saw sales surge over forty percent.

In this day and age, consumers are more sophisticated, so this claim seems ludicrousalmost absurd!

But how?

However, consider for a minute the time and the environment. DeBeers was trying to sell luxurious diamonds right after the world, much less, the country experienced one of the worst financial disasters of the century—The Depression.

Remember, society was sobering up from the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and stock market crash. Consumer confidence in business slumped as business and the economy recovered. Consumers were definitely not comfortable with spending lavishly.

In the rock shaft of DeBeers diamond mine at 900 feet underground. (Popular Science Monthly Volume 41)

The company had to get consumers to invest in ideas beyond purchasing some pricey trinket for status. They had to convince consumers of the more lasting benefits of purchasing their diamonds, and more importantly, they had to convince consumers of the significance and worth of a diamond.

But before selling romance, DeBeers primed the pump….

Decades before, when DeBeers’ company became a part of the global diamond trade, it created syndicates in South Africa, London and Israel. Diamond claim holders and distributors, in conjunction with these syndicates, were able to manipulate the diamond market, so it appeared that there was a scarcity in diamonds.

This manipulation led to an increase in price in diamonds, and more significantly, their perceived value. By the mid-to-late twenties, diamonds had been firmly ensconced as a status symbol in the American mind.

How did the increased value of diamonds translate into ring sales for DeBeers?

Francis Wayland Ayer founded the public relations and advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son in 1867.  (Ralph M. Howe, The History of the Advertising Agency)

DeBeers, in an ingenious campaign for its time, got consumers to connect the idea of romance to diamonds. Even more integral to this campaign was selling the public on the concept that the size of the diamond was directly proportional to the amount of love a man had for his girlfriend.

By pitching the diamond this way, DeBeers was able to get consumers to make an emotional connection to the product being sold, in this case diamonds.

Thus, post-Depression weary consumers did not focus on the exorbitant cost of the diamond, but the thought behind giving the gift of diamonds.

As a result, sales soared and DeBeers experienced instant name recognition, as consumers bought into the idea that romance plus diamonds equals eternal love and commitment!

Furthermore, this particular campaign led to one of the most lasting slogans in the American cultural fabric—A diamond is forever.

Now, let’s talk public relations….

More specifically, how did public relations help DeBeers’ to sell diamonds in the millions?

The DeBeers’ campaign used a few methods outlined by some of the earliest PR men of this time.

  • For one, DeBeers focused its campaign on a public (specific population), in this case mid-to-upper income couples on the verge of engagement or marriage.
  • The campaign also established the diamond as not only a symbol of wealth and affluence but also one of love and romance.
  • Through slogans used throughout the years, DeBeers has connected with the public in getting them to associate diamonds with tradition and everlasting love.

Because of DeBeers….

The diamond has become associated with glamour and wealth in the American psyche.

The diamond has become the most popular symbol associated with a man’s devotion to his paramour.

The diamond has been a lasting symbol of romance and tradition in the public’s psyche.

For DeBeers, the promotion of the diamond has translated into an eighty billion dollar a year business.

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