In the age of social media, engagements are often more than just a private affair between two people in love.
These days, an engagement is often experienced by an entire online community, filled with close friends, family and acquaintances.
It’s a time when even a long-lost pal from high school will stop to say “Congratulations.”
One thing about engagements in the post-20th-century world that has remained steady, however, is the ring.
A marriage proposal in 2016 is still anchored by the presentation of a beautiful diamond ring.
Today, two-thirds of American proposals include a diamond ring. International jewelers use their diamond selection as the central focus of their marketing. A diamond ring is as inextricable from the image of a smiling bride as her veil or her bouquet.
But it wasn’t always this way.
There was a time in recent history when brides would rather have received a washing machine or a new car for their engagement.
Diamond rings were considered wasteful, like throwing money down the drain.
And then, a copywriter for the N.W. Ayer advertising company jotted down four words of copy for a long-time client right before she went to bed.
“A Diamond is Forever” is Born
In the late 1930s, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. was facing a continued slowdown on diamond sales in the United States, mostly due to the Great Depression.
The national attitude at the time was one of scarcity and responsibility. Newly-engaged young women hoped for washing machines or other practical household necessities to mark their engagements.
Hoping to reinvigorate the desire for diamonds in the United States, De Beers turned to the N.W. Ayer Advertising Agency in Philadelphia.
Frances Gerety was hired by N.W. Ayer in 1943 as the replacement for another female copywriter. She was given De Beers as her primary account, since female copywriters were generally restricted to woman-centric products and services.
She scribbled down “A Diamond is Forever” one night before bed in 1947, and presented it to lukewarm reception the next day at work.
Creating the Diamond Demand
At first, the higher-ups at N.W. Ayer thought “A Diamond is Forever” lacked any real meaning.
The word “forever” was grammatically questionable, they said. No one was excited about the spot’s prospects, but it made it to print without fanfare.
And diamond sales in the United States began an atmospheric climb:
- In 1939, diamond sales in the U.S. totaled $23 million.
- In 1979, diamond sales in the U.S. totaled $2.1 billion.
- De Beers grew their ad budget from $200,000 to $10 million in those 40 years.
N.W. Ayer and Frances Gerety had helped De Beers create an association between their product and a psychological craving deeper than any washing machine or new Buick could fulfill: the desire for eternal romantic love and companionship.
They managed to attach a product to an emotion that a post-war nation was feeling in droves.
Men were returning from war, industry was booming, and people were looking to settle down and get married. In this rich post-World War II tapestry, a diamond ring was the perfect symbol of a new life filled with happiness and prosperity.
Decades of Success
De Beers used the slogan in their national campaigns until 2010.
Through the decades, “A Diamond is Forever” has beguiled consumers and become a household phrase that even the most advertising-adverse can recognize and place.
De Beers announced in late 2015 that they would be returning to the classic slogan in their Forevermark holiday campaigns, marking nearly 70 years that the slogan has been in use for the company.
In 1999, Advertising Age named “A Diamond is Forever” the greatest advertising slogan of the 20th Century.
What are some of your favorite advertising slogans of all time?
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