Exploring the foreverness of “A diamond is forever.”
“A diamond is forever” and a handful of variations on it have been in play since it first went into a print ad in 1947. The story of its birth and life are well worth recounting.
De Beers Consolidated Mines, then the global diamond monopoly, had watched helplessly as a diamond sales in the United States collapsed over many decades – before and during the Great Depression, into WWII and beyond.
Public sentiment in the West in those lean times was about self-sacrifice and high frugality. The female fiancées of the time had their hearts set on labour-saving devices such as washers, dryers and blenders. Diamond jewelry had become the preserve of the wealthy.
Enter the diamond engagement ring
Desperate to reinvigorate demand for diamonds in the United States, De Beers turned to the N.W. Ayer Advertising Agency in Philadelphia. In time, the agency’s mission would become to implant the notion of the diamond engagement ring as a must-buy in the public imagination.
Among the agency’s copywriters was one Frances Gerety. Hired by Ayer in 1943, she was given De Beers as her key account. In those days, female copywriters were often assigned to handle brands appealing to women.
It was the ultimate challenge for Ayer: to create a mass market for a product consumers neither wanted, needed nor could afford.
A new form of advertising
Internal Ayer documents later released remarked that the campaign required “the conception of a new form of advertising, which has been widely imitated ever since. There was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea — the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond.”
Charged with generating a new slogan that would trigger the desired effect for De Beers, Frances Gerety wrote down “A diamond is forever” one night before bed in 1947. Presenting it the next morning, the reception was so lukewarm the line almost never saw daylight. Her all-male colleagues in the copy department had to ask what the hell it actually meant. They moaned that the word “forever” wasn’t being applied in a grammatically correct manner.
But the line somehow stuck into enough craws that De Beers bought it and started using it in campaigns, as did its diamond resellers.
How it spoke to consumers
Implicit in the advertising was, “A girl is not really engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring.” Repeat telling of that would come to make it fact. “Own a diamond,” went the logic, “and your love will never end. No diamond, no forever. How very sad.”
As time went along, so did the world
To say the slogan resonated is to grossly understate. By 1951, 80% of American brides wore a diamond engagement ring, a proportion that has hardly budged since. Few young men in the West today would dare ask for a woman’s hand without taking a knee, proffering a diamond ring and only then asking her to marry him.
Once the slogan reached a certain saturation point it became a part of the lexicon, much like Kleenex or Hoover had done. Author Ian Fleming grabbed the baton with his James Bond novel “Diamonds Are Forever”, followed by the eponymous movie in the 1970s. De Beers had both Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing to thank for the song “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, a potent public imagination refresh for the power of the diamond.
Why is it so good?
For me, what really brings it home is how “A Diamond Is Forever” touches men and women differently, yet with equal power. A diamond is the hardest known naturally occurring material on Earth, used to drill holes into that Earth, to polish other diamonds, and for thousands of other industrial applications. The slogan conveys that interesting quality without mush, making it easy for romantic and non-romantic males alike to buy in.
And for a large percentage of women, “A Diamond Is Forever” ties the notion of love and romance to the concept of eternity, which I think it’s fair to say most brides would like to characterize their new marriage’s prospects.
Eternity, promise and romance and all in such a tight little four-word package. That’s what makes it the perfect slogan.
I’m a Toronto-based copywriter waiting for a client brave enough to charge me with writing the next culture-altering slogan.
If you’ve got the stones, contact me here.