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One diamond voice needed

Many people in the luxury goods segment, including jewellery, believe the tech companies have “stolen” a lot of their sales. COLEBY NICHOLSON says a one-voice marketing campaign could help stem the tide. 
Of course, everyone knows that a diamond is forever, and that diamonds are also a girl’s best friend, right? And most jewellery people will know De Beers is responsible for … wait, sorry, my mind wandered a little. Let’s start this article again!

As I write this month’s column, Apple’s iPhone5S and 5C have just been launched and most of the rumours about the new iPhones have proven correct. 

Apple has, once again, created demand for a product that people simply don’t need. I mean, not only has the company become the expert at designing new products for markets that often don’t yet exist, its product announcements also stop the business world – they have become must-watch events not only to see the newest technology but also as a way of getting an insight into Apple’s incredible marketing strategies and vision.

The new iPhone5S has plenty of “cool features”, to quote the late Steve Jobs, and I must admit that I thought about buying one. Actually, I thought about upgrading! 

You see, I have an iPhone5 and even though I hardly use all of its bells and whistles, I was drawn to the new model’s bells and whistles. That’s crazy, right? 

That’s the power of Apple’s advertising and marketing. Well, outstanding advertising and marketing at least … wait, sorry, I lost track again; let’s get back to diamonds. After all, this is a jewellery magazine, right?

So … most people will know De Beers is responsible for the famous “A diamond is forever” marketing campaign, though few people realise that the campaign was so successful that in 1999 the US magazine Advertising Age awarded it the most recognised and effective slogan of the 20th century. 

The marketing slogan was developed in 1947 by De Beers’ advertising agency Ayer & Son and the slogan has a fascinating story in itself. Young copywriter Frances Gerety was working on a new campaign late one night when she realised she’d forgotten to include a signature line. “Dog-tired, I put my head down and said, ‘Please, God, send me a line’,” she later recalled, then wrote, “A diamond is forever”.

Diamond sales had been declining before 1947 and the De Beer’s advertising campaign, started in 1948, is said to have resurrected sales and made diamond engagement rings commonplace. 

In fact, one could argue that diamonds gained further popularity with the famous song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, first performed on Broadway in 1949 but made popular in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when sung by Marilyn Monroe.

Not true!
While there is no doubt that these two things helped create enormous consumer awareness, not everyone agrees that the increase in diamond sales can be solely attributed to one quirky marketing tagline. 

In her 1990 research paper Ring and Promises Margaret Brinig argues that the De Beers’ campaign was not the sole cause and that there’s “some evidence that engagement rings were part of an extra-legal [marriage] contract guarantee.”

According to Brinig, it has not always been a “tradition” for a man to give a woman a diamond engagement ring. Prior to the 1940s in the US, if a man decided to discontinue the “engagement” the woman could sue for monetary damages under a "Breach of Promise to Marry" action, to compensate for loss of reputation. 

She says the practice of the man giving the woman a diamond engagement ring evolved as a response to the change in law, which in turn saw the demand for diamond engagement rings increase. 

Brinig analysed diamond import data and concluded that the increase in diamond demand began around 1935, years before the Ayer marketing campaign.

Regardless, the point of this history lesson is to set the scene for where we are today. De Beers’ campaign was a key driver of diamond sales until it ceased around 2000 and for more than a decade there has been no single “voice” working to promote consumer sales. 

No sensible person would begrudge De Beers for ending its commitment to generic consumer marketing, especially in a market it no longer dominated, but it’s clear that industry is worse off now that De Beers no longer carries the load. 

Since then there has been no single “voice” working to promote consumer sales.

Lost sales
Many people in the luxury goods segment, including jewellery, believe the tech companies have “stolen” a lot of their sales, however, we should ask why do many consumers choose to spend their discretionary dollars on phones they don’t need rather than on other products like jewellery? 

The main reason is marketing, and the tech companies are experts at ensuring consumers hear their message. Loud and clear!

Interestingly, the diamond industry is said to be worth US$65 billion at retail which is, coincidentally, around the same figure of Apple’s 2010 annual revenue. However, last year Apple recorded more than US$150 billion in revenue; that’s a mighty effective “voice”. 

Unfortunately, previous attempts to unite the diamond jewellery industry behind a single marketing “voice” have failed. But the latest incarnation under the World Diamond Mark is gathering pace. If it gets off the ground it could drive worldwide diamond sales much like De Beers once did. One can only hope!

And while I would not suggest that that such a campaign could have the influence of Apple, wouldn’t it be good to have some voice to compete with other retail categories, especially those blasted phone companies!

More reading

Coleby Nicholson

Former Publisher • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson launched Jeweller in 1996 and was also publisher and managing editor from 2006 to 2019. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than 20 years and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

SAMS Group Australia

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