Feb 12, 2019

The Ultimate Valentine’s Marketing Campaign of All Time?

written by Abby Avery
Valentine’s Day Marketing

It’s that time of year again when we start to orientate our marketing communications around love, romance and commitment. Valentine’s day is a booming key date in the marketing calendar for a lot of companies; think the gift sector, hospitality and jewellery. Valentine’s day has become increasingly commercialised and some people now feel compelled to mark the day with gifts and date nights just for society’s sake. For some people though, Valentine’s Day can be the mark of a truly special, personal occasion. What do we often see on Valentine’s day? Yep, proposals. And what is the first thing that you think of when someone gets engaged? The diamond ring, right? Its mandatory. Just as much as the wedding dress or the wedding cake is. When a couple announce they’ve got engaged, the first thing the bride-to-be will show you is her engagement ring, and ‘let’s see the ring’ will be something she hears for weeks, even months to come.




Can you imaging seeing an engagement announcement on your Newsfeed without a diamond ring picture? The engagement ring is one of the biggest assets in a married couple’s relationship, particularly in sentimental value, representing their eternal love and commitment. But have you ever stopped and thought why do we give engagement rings? You both get a wedding ring when you get married, so why do we have to propose with a diamond ring and how did this tradition start?

Well it almost pains me to say that there’s not much of a romantic story here. Whilst in ancient times there was some tradition of men offering ring to symbolise their ownership of women, the diamond ring is in fact nothing more than a clever marketing ploy; so clever in fact, that it could be seen as one of the most elaborate and successful marketing campaigns of all time.


The Engagement Ring Story

It all started in the late 19th century when huge mines containing vast quantities of diamonds were discovered in South Africa. Prior to this, diamonds were seen as rare, precious stones that only the very elitist could afford. Following this newly uncovered ‘diamond-boom’ the british businessmen behind the mining efforts quickly realised that if they let this immense quantity of diamonds into the market, it would become saturated and the value of the diamond would plummet. So in 1888, to maintain their investment and to avoid devaluing the diamond, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd was born. Now known just as De Beers, this Diamond Cartel was set-up in South Africa to control the supply of the diamond trade. Diamonds were stockpiled and a strategic network of wholesalers were selected around the world and sold to at controlled prices.


The Appointment of a Marketing Agency

Once the market had been monopolised, it needed to be stabilised, but the global economy was in turmoil and in outbreaks of war. The US was chosen as their initial market whilst Europe was under threat and in 1938, New York Ad Agency N.W. Ayer was hired. They were happy to go ahead with the questionable tactics of De Beers and came up with a psychological strategy that had never been seen before; but has been replicated ever since. Unlike familiar strategies, they didn’t try to market a specific brand name or product into people’s minds, but more of an idea and emotion. They needed to change people’s perceptions of diamonds, from a precious stone to an essential commodity.

At the time of Ayer’s appointment, only 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds, if an engagement was even given at all; the concept of engagement rings hadn’t been widely adopted yet. This though, became the basis of their strategy and what they wanted to strengthen after carrying out extensive research. They discovered that diamonds were considered a ‘luxury’, reserved for the super rich. They also found that this demographic found diamonds to be unessential and rich Americans preferred to spend their money on things like cars. Ayer needed to find a way to market diamonds at different demographics to increase their target market.




The Diamond Marketing Strategy

The problem:

  1. They needed to link diamonds with something emotional to increase demand.
  2. Diamonds are also not worth much when resold (as soon as you purchase a diamond, it loses 50% of its value), and they didn’t want people to know this. They also want to avoid having a mass of second-hand diamonds saturating the market so they needed to find a way to convince people that they are an eternal purchase.

The solution:

The idea of love and marriage fitted the bill perfectly.

Ayer managed to solve a need that consumers didn’t even know they had, but it made sense. And that’s how they founded what was to be one of the greatest marketing strategies in the world. They were going to “create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”


How De Beers Created a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

Through N.W. Ayer, De Beers were provided with a fully integrated marketing strategy. They made it look like diamonds were everywhere. They started promoting their biggest diamonds through influencer marketing which in-turn increased sales of their smaller ones; a tactic we see today across many industries. Ayer’s publicists wrote newspaper columns and magazine articles about celebrity proposals where diamond rings were offered. They would spotlight the diamond and share informative content about the different diamond types, sizes and worth. Fashion designers and media would then start discussing diamond trends in print and on radio shows.

Ayer did not push the brand name, nor did they try to push sales, they simply pushed the emotional value of the diamond. They shared love stories about people giving/receiving diamonds and how it made them feel, they shared educational content with instructions and tips on how to buy diamonds and how to identify their worth, they shared ideas and trends and entertaining content.

After just four years, diamond sales in the US increased by 55%. This continued success led Ayer to perfect their marketing strategy even further and increase the intensity of their messages. They now wanted to convince Americans that a marriage without a diamond is incomplete.




A Diamond Is Forever

“A diamond is forever” became the signature line used in every single De Beers advert from 1948 onwards and was even named ‘the number one slogan of the century’ in 1999. This perfectly captured De Beers notion that a diamond is like your eternal love; forever. It also concreted their strategy to avoid mass-reselling so not reveal their low resale value. A later campaign ran in the 1980’s to put a focus on how much should be spent on an engagement ring. They advised that it should be equal to one month’s salary in the 1930s, but they decided to increase this to two months salary with ads that featured strong captions like:


“Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?”
“2 months’ salary showed the future Mrs. Smith what the future will be like.”
“You can’t look at Jane and tell me she’s not worth 2 months’ salary.”


This campaign was another great success and even today the ‘two month rule’ is still widely accepted in multiple countries.




Marketing The Values, Not The Products

There are so many reasons why this became the ultimate marketing campaign of all time. Whilst some may argue it to be a scam, the company were able to monopolise a market, change social attitudes and manipulate demand. The marketing agency identified that the product didn’t have much value, particularly monetary and so they needed to market values to the consumer; not the product. They needed to give it emotion, a story and a reason for the customer to purchase it. They managed to solve a problem for the consumer and add emotional value.

Like we said, some see this as a scam, but others see this as an example of ingenious marketing which was powerful, innovative and strategic – in every aspect, from the content to the pricing and the positioning. De Beers went on to be global, to who they are today, and many of Ayer’s marketing tactics are now recognised and used by marketing managers in different industries across the whole world.