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Easy methods to promote a rock

The diamond business achieved what’s arguably essentially the most profitable corporate-marketing marketing campaign of all time.

Dark-orange illustration of a woman's hand (at left) wearing an oversize diamond ring, being tapped by a man's hand (at right) with a magic wand; cash bills fly around in the background.
Illustration by Matteo Giuseppe Pani. Supply: Getty.

That is an version of Time-Journey Thursdays, a journey via The Atlantic’s archives to contextualize the current, floor pleasant treasures, and look at the American concept. Enroll right here.

It’s probably the most well-known scenes in Hollywood historical past: Marilyn Monroe, shimmying in a hot-pink gown on a blood-red soundstage, flanked by unsuitable suitors in tailcoats, singing “Diamonds Are a Woman’s Greatest Buddy” whereas carrying an quantity of bijou that nearly appears sarcastic. In 1953’s Gents Favor Blondes, Monroe’s charisma and cultural affect are at their peak, and it’s tough to take your eyes off her and her flawlessly glowing (and impeccably lit) diamonds as she flits across the stage, name-checking Tiffany and Cartier and advising a bevy of maiden backup dancers that diamonds won’t ever do them flawed. The efficiency is so influential that an homage to it—Madonna’s 1985 video for “Materials Woman”—is a legendary pop-culture artifact in its personal proper. The scene, maybe essentially the most well-known in Monroe’s profession, was additionally what we’d now name “product placement” or “sponsored content material.”

When the film got here out and for many years afterward, the diamond business’s full-court press on mass media was unknown to most of the people. In his 1982 Atlantic function, “Have You Ever Tried to Promote a Diamond?,” the journalist Edward Jay Epstein outlines what he describes as “the diamond invention.” Following the invention of big diamond deposits in South Africa on the finish of the nineteenth century, the diamond business had an issue on its palms: The British financiers who had underwritten the event of the mine had been somewhat too profitable of their pursuit of the beforehand uncommon stones, and so they all of a sudden had way over they wanted to fulfill current demand. Diamonds have been now not uncommon in any respect, and that meant that they weren’t essentially price—and didn’t essentially imply—a lot of something.

Step one in fixing that drawback was the creation of the De Beers Company, a price-fixing cartel that introduced the world’s provide of diamonds beneath its management. However making certain that diamond costs stayed excessive didn’t itself induce demand for the stones; because the Nice Melancholy drew to a detailed, it was clear that for the market to increase sufficient to make expansive mining operations frequently worthwhile investments, common individuals needed to be made to yearn for a diamond of their very own. The human tendency to imbue objects with which means lengthy predates the arrival of the fashionable shopper system, and the which means of the diamond wanted to be modified. “We’re coping with an issue in mass psychology,” stated a 1947 report authored by De Beers’s American promoting company N. W. Ayer.

Epstein’s detailed account of what’s arguably essentially the most profitable corporate-marketing marketing campaign of all time is a landmark piece of shopper journalism, and it provides a glimpse inside a playbook that’s nonetheless extensively used to promote merchandise right now. De Beers employed Ayer to show the diamond into a logo of everlasting love, with the intention of not simply placing a diamond ring on extra fingers, however making certain that it will be seen as gauche and unromantic for shoppers to resell theirs; with no vital secondary market, the cartel’s singular grip on the worldwide provide can be maintained. When mines have been principally producing bigger diamonds, their campaigns emphasised engagement rings, and karat weight was the first marker of a good diamond. When De Beers partnered with the Soviets on a Siberian mine that produced tons of small diamonds, entrepreneurs invented the eternity band, and campaigns shifted to encourage buyers to prioritize readability and lower over dimension. Males, too, needed to be skilled to purchase diamonds, with out figuring out whether or not their feminine accomplice may really need one—irrespective of its specs, the most effective diamond is a shock.

A number of the strongest instruments of the diamond invention, although, have been oblique. The cartel’s advert company flooded Hollywood with jewellery and fed info on stars’ gems to gossip columnists and newspaper reporters. It acquired diamonds in entrance of movie cameras and on the palms of rigorously posed starlets in fan magazines. As Hollywood grew in dimension and affect—first via film theaters, then through tv—so did its capability to set cultural expectations. Advert campaigns alone don’t have the facility to embed a sturdy new concept into outdated cultural norms. Marilyn Monroe did.

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