Diamond Marketing by De Beers
by Erum Qureshi
That ‘a diamond is forever’ is the probably the world’s greatest, most expensive and widely circulated PR scam! The on-going, century-long campaign by diamond giant De Beers owned by the Oppenheimer family began in 1938; De Beers needed a slogan for diamonds that expressed both the theme of romance and everlasting love.
The on-going, century-long campaign by diamond giant De Beers owned by the Oppenheimer family began in 1938; De Beers needed a slogan for diamonds that expressed both the theme of romance and everlasting love.
Consequently, N.W Ayer, De Beers’ New York based ad agency, came up with the line ‘A diamond is forever’. Even though diamonds can be shattered, chipped, discolored or reduced to ash, the concept of eternity perfectly captured the magical qualities their client wanted to attribute to their product. The campaign began in America and projected the diamond onto the man-woman relationship, subtly altering the public’s view of the way a man courts, and wins a woman. That it was forever also aimed to associate the stone with a sentiment that inhibited the public from ever reselling it. Ask anyone who has tried reselling their diamonds, and they will tell you how it is practically impossible to even recover a diamond’s cost price, let alone make a profit on that investment.
De Beers controls over 60% of the world’s diamond market; it has stockpiles of the stones and sets the price on them. However, this invention was more than just a monopoly for fixing diamond prices, it was a strategy formulated for De Beers by N.W Ayer in America and later followed by J. Walter Thompson in the rest of the world for converting carbon crystals into globally accepted icons of wealth, romance and power.
The diamond ring was pitched not as a marketable product but as a symbol of everlasting love and security and an inseparable part of courtship and marital bliss. There was no direct sale to be made, no brand name to be impressed on the public, just the idea of eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond. The pitch succeeded. And how! Except for those few stones that have been destroyed, every gem quality diamond that has ever been cut and polished still exists today.
Kimberly diamond mine, owned by De Beers group
Nearly a hundred million women wear diamonds, while millions of others keep them in vaults and safe-deposit boxes as family heirlooms. The public holds an estimated 500 million carats of gem quality diamonds (more than fifty times the annual production of gem quality diamonds in any given year by De Beers). If a significant section of the public ever decided to put these diamonds up for sale in the market, the price so carefully controlled and sustained by De Beers could never be maintained. For the diamond invention to survive, for De Beers itself to survive, these hundred million women had to be stopped from ever parting with their diamonds.
It was the symbolism, not the value. The idea that diamonds are a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. Men are aware of the symbolism value, which is why they have to buy a diamond ring even if they know it’s a creation of the De Beers monopoly. De Beers spent millions to ingrain in the minds of everyone that they have to shell out thousands for the diamond if a man wants to marry his woman. It was how one could make ‘two months’ salary last forever’!
De Beers sent representatives to high schools across the country to teach young girls about the value of diamonds and feed them romantic dreams. Word was spread by diamonds worn by Hollywood stars, British Royalty and wives and daughters of political leaders and celebrities, by women who could make the common man’s wife or girlfriend say ‘I wish I had what she has’. Love began to be measured in carats.
In the 1960’s diamonds were discovered in Siberia and De Beers saw its control-supply chain monopoly being threatened. It closed a secret deal with the Soviets to market these small stones and the marketing campaign for ‘eternity anniversary rings’ was launched, targeting an entirely new market of older married women.
Perhaps the biggest controversy De Beers ever faced was that of Conflict Diamonds. Although the industry has started following the Kimberly process (wherein a diamond is monitored and certified at every point of its production process), not very long ago De Beers was still buying Angolan diamonds and insisting that tracking stones was unfeasible. No ad campaign for De Beers ever highlighted the fact that mining undertaken in African countries violate innumerable human rights. In these mines, small children are made to dig in small underground pits, where men and women can’t fit, even though child labor is illegal.
Workers and communities in and around mines suffer due to state orchestrated repression, toxic run-off from unsafe mining practices, tuberculosis, HIV infections, prostitution, immune disorders, racial discrimination and slavery. In the past decade, millions of people have been dispossessed of their livelihoods, land, future and their lives in places like Katanga, Congo and Zaire where De Beers has its mining operations. Such topics are off the agenda for De Beers, the media and the women who choose to wear these diamonds. For them, it serves to 1) Reassure them that a man values them,
2) Reassures them that he is financially stable, and
3) Draws respect from other women because of Nos. 1 and 2.
The question why the people from the world’s richest mining metropolises are also one of the world’s poorest and most downtrodden does not occur to anyone.
Back home in India where 80 % of the world’s diamonds are cut, children are given the smallest stones to work on because their eyes and fingers are better suited for shaping the tiny facets. These children suffer from eyestrain, repetitive motion injuries and lacerated lungs from diamond dust. Skilled laborers in India earn less than 1/5th of what their counterparts in Europe or America do. Where is the romance in that?
Today, being faced with increased competition, the threat of synthetic diamonds and newly discovered diamond reserves, De Beers has decided to stop buying the world’s surplus diamonds as it has been doing all these decades to control supply. It markets itself as a clean diamond company, guaranteeing bloodless stones because it lies in its best commercial interests to do so. It would even suit De Beers if the supply of African diamonds somehow dried up; they could then get rid of its $4bn stockpile of accumulated carbon. As always, exploiters minimize the awareness of the resources they target, laying emphasis instead on the glamour and lure of the product they market.