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The industry needs a change of pace in diamond advertising

28 april 2014

If it is true that diamonds find their raison d’être in emotions, rather than necessity, then one can see why good marketing is twice as important as in other goods. Today advertising campaigns have to fulfil two separate objectives: convincing consumers into purchasing diamonds over different luxury products, and convincing them into choosing a specific brand. Things were much simpler in the old days, when De Beers used to allocate large sums of money for generic diamond advertising.

Today the moment when Harry Oppenheimer tasked the advertising agency N. W. Ayer & Son with creating a marketing campaign to boost diamond sales in North America back in 1938 is seen as one of the founding moments of the industry. A few years later Ayer & Son launched the iconic slogan “a diamond is forever”, which after six decades still sums up the idea of eternal love.

During the following years De Beers has repeatedly financed generic diamond advertising. Anytime diamond sales started lagging behind those of other luxuries, De Beers would have stepped in to push sales up through advertising. It was an effective, but increasingly costly strategy: in 2002 the company decided to destine a whopping US$ 200 million per year to fight price decline.

But then new competitors emerged in the diamond industry, and De Beers decided to cut its generic marketing campaign and promote its own branded diamond products. Funds were diverted to the Forevermark and De Beers Diamond Jewellery brands.

This move caught the industry on the wrong foot. Until then, De Beers’ generic advertising had been a linchpin of the diamond market throughout its centenary activity. Nobody could estimate the effects of this defection on diamond sales, especially at a time when diamond jewellery was underperforming compared to competitive luxury products.

De Beers has always maintained that the industry can do without generic ads. In an interview published last year on Rapaport, Stephen Lussier declared that he expected other brands to step in and fill the gap with their branded advertising. But he also warned that those brands needed to “improve the emotional power of the marketing that already takes place”.  Mr. Lussier was right both about his predictions and the conditions attached.

Indeed, the void left by generic advertising in diamond marketing did not last for long. Retailers and jewellers – including DTC’s Forevermark brand – stepped in to advertise their own brands. Over the golden season, that spawns three months between November and Valentine’s Day, jewellery companies always invest large quantities of money into advertising campaigns in the media.

The problem though is the quality and variety of the advertisements themselves. The vast majority of diamond commercials sticks to the same, reliable script: a man surprises his woman with a diamond jewel and she is overwhelmed by emotions. In many cases they appear as nothing more than a pantomime of the renowned silhouette advertisements produced by De Beers a couple of decades ago.

Experts in the field have investigated the repetitiveness of diamond jewellery advertising campaigns. In 2013 the Harvard Business Review discussed the fact that diamond advertising seems to be one of the few cases in which innovation is seen as counterproductive. But as the same stereotype is repeated over and over, the emotional connection it creates with the public fades away. The more people see the same idea, the less they pay attention to it. The love message itself is good and alive, but there is need for new, fresher ways to vehicle it. In other words, every diamond should tell a love story, but not always the same one.

Today the industry is reorganizing itself to face the problem of diamond marketing. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses launched the World Diamond Mark initiative exactly with this purpose in mind, and many see in it the greatest opportunity to reverse slow growth in diamond prices.

Yet, generic advertising needs a change of pace compared to the De Beers era. This will be an arduous challenge for the WDM, a challenge in many ways even bigger than the one faced by the Oppenheimers and Ayer & Son in the late ‘30s. The World of today is more complex than back then, and competition fr om alternative luxury products is fierce. In addition, the old Western markets are becoming impermeable to traditional advertising, while several new markets have appeared across the five continents. Each of them has different culture and sensibility in terms of marketing strategies and will require a targeted campaign.

That is why the WDM will need assistance from every diamond and jewellery organization in its global efforts to push the price of diamonds up wh ere it belongs. “It’s our job to get up there and create a tool to inspire the consumer”, said last year Rami Baron, President of the Diamond Dealers Club of Australia, while presenting the WDM’s strategy. “But we don’t do it alone, we do it with you”.

Matteo Butera, Rough&Polished