Monday, January 4, 2016

How an Ad Campaign Invented the Diamond Engagement Ring

Gender, gender, gender, the social construct used to keep women the second sex and a way to sell them worthless crap for a lot of money.

From The Atlantic:  http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/02/how-an-ad-campaign-invented-the-diamond-engagement-ring/385376/

In the 1930s, few Americans proposed with the precious stone. Then everything changed.

Uri Friedman


When I decided to propose to the woman who is now my wife, I gave a lot of thought to how I was going to do it. But I didn't think much about what I was going to do it with. Not only did a diamond ring seem the logical—nay, the inevitable—choice, but I had just the very diamond. My grandfather had scrounged up enough money to buy a diamond ring for my grandmother in the early 1950s, and the stone had passed to me when he passed away. I reset the diamond in a more modern band, got the ring appraised, and slipped it on my fiancĂ©e's finger.

It was a beautiful moment—a gesture of love and commitment spanning generations. And it was also exactly what De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. wanted. I was a century-old marketing campaign, actualized. And I'm far from alone; three-quarters of American brides wear a diamond engagement ring, which now costs an average of $4,000.

Every so often, an article comes along that makes you thoroughly rethink a rote practice. Edward Jay Epstein's "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" was one of them. In his 1982 Atlantic story, the investigative journalist deconstructed what he termed the "diamond invention"—the "creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem."

That invention is surprisingly recent: Epstein traces its origins to the discovery of massive diamond mines in South Africa in the late 19th century, which for the first time flooded world markets with diamonds. The British businessmen operating the South African mines recognized that only by maintaining the fiction that diamonds were scarce and inherently valuable could they protect their investments and buoy diamond prices. They did so by launching a South Africa–based cartel, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (now De Beers), in 1888, and meticulously extending the company's control over all facets of the diamond trade in the ensuing decades.

Most remarkably, De Beers manipulated not just supply but demand. In 1938, amid the ravages of the Depression and the rumblings of war, Harry Oppenheimer, the De Beers founder's son, recruited the New York–based ad agency N.W. Ayer to burnish the image of diamonds in the United States, where the practice of giving diamond engagement rings had been unevenly gaining traction for years, but where the diamonds sold were increasingly small and low-quality.
Meanwhile, the price of diamonds was falling around the world. The folks at Ayer set out to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man's love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased. Young women, in turn, had to be convinced that courtship concluded, invariably, in a diamond.

Ayer insinuated these messages into the nooks and crannies of popular culture. It marketed an idea, not a diamond or brand:

Continue reading at:  http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/02/how-an-ad-campaign-invented-the-diamond-engagement-ring/385376/

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