Perhaps the best marketing campaign ever wasn't about selling a product directly — it was about associating a product with an emotion; thus making it a psychological necessity.
Here is the story of how De Beers, through a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, associated diamonds with romance and forever changed the social attitudes of Americans.
The message had been so successfully impressed that those who can not afford to buy a diamond at the time of their marriage generally “defer the purchase” rather than forgo it.
…De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression. Indeed, the cartel seemed so superbly in control of prices — and unassailable — that, in the late 1970s, even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession.
The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold….
…Since “young men buy over 90% of all engagement rings” it would be crucial to inculcate in them the idea that diamonds were a gift of love: the larger and finer the diamond, the greater the expression of love. Similarly, young women had to be encouraged to view diamonds as an integral part of any romantic courtship
How did they do this?
Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love…
…placed a series of lush four-color advertisements in magazines that were presumed to mold elite opinion, featuring reproductions of famous paintings by such artists as Picasso, Derain, Dali, and Dufy. The advertisements were intended to convey the idea that diamonds, like paintings, were unique works of art….
…It also established a “Diamond Information Center” that placed a stamp of quasi-authority on the flood of “historical” data and “news” it released….
…Promote the diamond as one material object which can reflect, in a very personal way, a man's … success in life.
…begin the long-term process of setting the diamond aside as the only appropriate gift for those later-in-life occasions where sentiment is to be expressed….
Still curious? If you're interested in learning more about the history of De Beers, read The Last Empire.