Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Diamond Mind Chapter Thirteen
Control of the world's diamond mines was a necessary but not sufficient condition for perpetuating the price of diamonds. If the public's appetite for diamonds decreased precipitously, as it had in the Depression, or women's fashions suddenly changed, as it had with coral and pearls, De Beers would not be able for long to keep prices from collapsing, no matter how ruthlessly it cut back on production from the mines. To complete the diamond invention, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply, and this required some manipulation of the psyche of the diamond buyer. What was necessary was the creation of a mass mentality in which women would perceive diamonds, not as precious stones that could be bought or sold according to economic conditions or fashions, but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life.
In September 1938, Harry Oppenheimer journeyed to New York City to investigate the possibilities of creating such a diamond mind. He was met by Gerald M. Lauck, who was the president of one of the leading advertising agencies in the United States, N. W. Ayer. Lauck and N. W. Ayer had been recommended to Oppenheimer by the Morgan Bank, which had helped his father consolidate his financial empire. His bankers were clearly concerned by the worldwide decline in the price of diamonds.
In Europe, where diamond prices had collapsed during the Depression, there seemed little possibility of restoring public confidence. In Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain, the notion of giving diamond rings to commemorate an engagement had never taken hold. In England and France, diamonds were still presumed to be a jewel for aristocrats rather than the masses. And in any case, Europe was on the verge of war, and there seemed little possibility of expanding diamond sales. This left the United States as the only real market for De Beers' diamonds.
Even though the "tradition" of giving diamond rings for engagements in America was barely fifty years old, it had survived the Depression. In fact, in 1938, some three quarters of all the cartel's diamonds were sold for engagement rings in the United States. Up until this point, however, American men tended to buy the smaller and poorer quality diamonds, averaging under $80 apiece, for their loved ones. Oppenheimer and the bankers believed that Americans could be persuaded to buy more expensive diamonds through an advertising campaign.
During their initial meeting, Oppenheimer suggested to Lauck that his agency prepare a plan for creating a new image for diamonds among Americans. He assured him that De Beers had not contacted any other American advertising agency with this proposal, and if the N. W. Ayer plan met with his father's approval, it would be the exclusive agents for the placement of the newspaper and radio advertisements in the United States. Moreover, Oppenheimer offered to underwrite the costs of the research necessary for developing the scheme. Lauck, envisioning a new and potentially lucrative account, instantly accepted the offer.
In their subsequent investigation into the American diamond market, N. W. Ayer's staff found that ever since the end of World War I in 1919, there had been a consistent decline in both the number and the quality of the diamonds sold in America. During this nineteen-year period, the total number of diamonds, measured in carats, had declined by 50 percent; while the price of the diamonds, measured in dollar value, had declined by nearly 100 percent. This suggested that well before the Depression, Americans had begun buying poorer quality and cheaper diamonds. They concluded, according to an Ayer memo, that the present depressed state of the market for diamonds was "the result of the economy, changes in social attitudes and the promotion of competitive luxuries."
Although it could do little about the state of the economy, N. W. Ayer suggested that through a well-orchestrated advertising and public relations campaign, it could significantly alter the "social attitudes" of the public at large and thereby channel American spending toward larger and more expensive diamonds instead of "competitive luxuries." Specifically, the Ayer study stressed the need to vitalize the association in the public's mind between diamonds and romance. 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. The study found that there was already an increasing number of marriages among middle-income wage-earners who were "the backbone of the diamond market," and that, if properly cultivated, this trend could provide fertile grounds for diamond sales in the future.
Since the Ayer plan to romanticize diamonds required subtly altering the public's picture of the way that a man courts a woman, the advertising agency strongly suggested exploiting the relatively new medium of motion pictures. "Motion pictures seldom include scenes showing the selection or purchase of an engagement ring to a girl," the Ayer proposal noted. "It would be our plan to contact scenario writers and directors and arrange for such scenes in suitable productions." Since movie idols were then paragons of romance for the mass audience, they would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love.
In addition, the proposal suggested planting news stories and society photographs in selected magazines and newspapers that would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. There would be stories about the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs that conspicuously focused on the glittering stone on the finger of a well-known woman. And there were to be radio programs where fashion designers talked about the trend towards diamonds."
The Ayer plan also envisioned using the British royal family to help foster the romantic allure of diamonds. It observed, "Since Great Britain has such an important interest in the diamond industry, the royal couple could be of tremendous assistance to this British industry by wearing diamonds rather than other jewels." Subsequently, Queen Elizabeth did go on a well-publicized trip to the South African diamond mines, and she accepted a diamond from Oppenheimer.
On April 6, 1939, H. T. Dickinson, a director of De Beers responsible for international diamond sales, arrived in New York on board the Queen Mary. At 4 PM that afternoon, he was in the offices of N. W. Ayer discussing the implementation of the advertising campaign. Initially, he found it difficult to believe that diamonds had steadily lost ground to other luxury goods in America, but after reviewing the data, he accepted the N. W. Ayer thesis: a new image for diamonds was needed. Within two months, De Beers authorized Ayer to begin its campaign.
The advertising agency wasted little time in approaching the film studios in Hollywood. In its 1940 report to De Beers, it noted, "A long series of conferences with Paramount officials, capped by your own efforts, succeeded in changing the title [of a film] from 'Diamonds Are Dangerous' to 'Adventures in Diamonds'." It then reported that in another film called Skylark, it had succeeded in inserting a "long scene" in dealing with the selection of a diamond clip and bracelet for the star Claudette Colbert; and that in the film, That Uncertain Feeling, Merle Oberon wore $40,000 worth of diamond Jewelry. On the basis of these initial results, N. W. Ayer strongly recommended that continued efforts be made to manipulate Hollywood films. It reasoned that Americans "have not been conditioned by their environment to diamond purchases. Aside from the engagement rings, they have no diamond tradition. But they are going to be influenced by ... what they see their favorite movie star wear."
To further advance the romantic image of diamonds, N. W. Ayer placed a series of lush four-colored advertisements about diamonds in the New Yorker and other magazines presumed to mold elite opinion. These advertisements featured reproductions of famous paintings by such respected artists as Picasso, Berman, Dali and Dufy, which were intended to convey the idea that diamonds were also unique works of art.
When the Second World War began in Europe, N. W. Ayer fed numerous stories to the press suggesting that the diamond market would not be adversely affected by these developments. Even though the war, in fact, virtually ended the gem diamond business, with mines being shut all over Africa and cutting centers in Europe being abandoned, the planted stories, which were widely circulated by the wire services, carried such optimistic titles as "Diamond, King of Gems, Reigns Supreme Despite War," "Diamond Supply Unhurt by War," "War Gives Impetus to Diamond Cutting," "Marriage Increases Indicated by Rise in Diamond Sales," and "How Diamonds Spark the Wings of War and Peace."
By 1941 the advertising agency reported to its client that it had already achieved impressive results in its campaign to alter the American public's perception of diamonds. Since its inception, the sale of diamonds had soared 55 percent in the United States, reversing the previous downward trend in retail sales. N. W. Ayer stated in the accompanying memorandum to De Beers "the entire structure of your diamond organization for the duration of the war rests upon the ultimate sale of diamonds to consumers in the United States. ... Your problem is to cultivate the desire to purchase diamonds for their own sake." The advertising agency saw no reason to be overly modest in summarizing its own contribution. It noted in the report that its campaign required "the conception of a new form of advertising which has been widely imitated ever since. There was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea-the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond." It further claimed that "a new type of art was devised . . . and a new color, diamond blue, was created and used in these campaigns. . . ."
As far as future campaigns were concerned, N. W. Ayer pointed out that paid advertisements themselves were not sufficient for solidifying the credibility of the diamond. "It is the responsibility of the publicity effort to gain access to the editorial and news columns of magazines and newspapers, and thereby become part of the publication itself," the report added. "In this manner, it carries the authority of a disinterested source and consequently creates interest among readers."
This technique of distributing its message disguised as a news story proved especially effective when it became necessary to foster the idea that diamonds were contributing to the war effort and buying gems amounted to an act of patriotism. During the war De Beers also called on N. W. Ayer to defuse the charge that it was an international cartel. A penciled memorandum from De Beers in 1944 dealing with its public relations notes: "Problem to convince American public that the Diamond Industry, though an admitted monopoly, operates fairly and in a manner that accords with American interests. This must be done in a way that will stand up under direct attack even from a government source." It was not until after the war ended, when millions of soldiers returned to civilian life, that N. W. Ayer received an expanded budget from De Beers to proceed with the next stage of its campaign to make diamonds part of the romantic consciousness of the American public. In Its 1947 strategy, the advertising agency strongly emphasized a psychological approach. "We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to . . . strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring-to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services." It defined as its target audience "some 70 million people 15 years and over whose opinion we hope to influence in support of our objectives." Since the point of the exercise was to cultivate a sustainable image in the public mind, rather than merely increase short-term sales, the advertising agency cautioned that "the ordinary so-called 'hard-hitting' techniques are not for you, for they are the very methods that helped to cheapen the diamond in the opinion of the public during the years before our association."
Instead, N. W. Ayer outlined a far more subtle program which included arranging for lecturers to visit high schools across the country."All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions," it explained in a memorandum to De Beers. The advertising agency also organized in 1946 a weekly service called "Hollywood Personalities," which provided 125 leading newspapers with descriptions of the diamonds worn by "screen stars." And it continued its efforts to focus news coverage on celebrities displaying their diamond rings as a symbol of romantic involvement.
In 1947, the agency even commissioned a series of portraits of "engaged socialites." The idea was to create prestigious "role models" for the poorer middle-class wage earners. The advertising agency frankly explains in Its 1948 strategy paper, "We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer's wife and the mechanic's sweetheart say 'I wish I had what she has.' " Aside from the romantic connection, N. W. Ayer also found that it could subtly exploit the premarital insecurity women were found to have in their relations with men. Even though the tradition of diamond engagement rings was, at least in its popular form, mainly an invention of the late nineteenth century, the advertising agency decided to give it deep historical roots and establish it in the public's mind as an inseparable part of the marriage process. "We keep people thinking of the diamond as the traditional symbol of the pledge to wed," it explains in the 1948 memorandum. "The tradition itself is kept before them its origin, its meaning, its history. Told in different forms, in articles, in short 'filler' items, in pictures, this story goes from our desks to appear in books, magazines and newspapers." As evidence of the success of this campaign of surreptitious authoring of news stories, it cited the fact that "newspapers have carried our items about the engagement diamonds of a list of women that range from Mrs. [Harry S.] Truman to the 'glamour girls' of Hollywood." It suggested that these carefully constructed news stories were especially effective in planting ideas in the public mind, noting, "Such items develop the feeling, more convincingly than mere repetition of the statement could do, that the diamond is in fact the only accepted symbol of engagement."
De Beers needed a slogan for diamonds that expressed both the theme of romance and of legitimacy. Then in 1948 a N. W. Ayer copywriter came up with the caption "A Diamond Is Forever," which was scrawled on the bottom of a picture of two young lovers on a honeymoon. Even though diamonds can be in fact shattered, chipped, discolored or incinerated to an ash, the concept of eternity perfectly captured the magical qualities that the advertising agency wanted to impute to diamonds. Within a year, "A Diamond Is Forever" became the official logo of Dc Beers.
In 1951, N. W. Ayer found some resistance to its million dollar publicity blitz. It noted in its annual strategy review: "The millions of brides and brides-to-be are subjected to at least two important pressures that work against the diamond engagement ring. Among the more prosperous, there is the sophisticated urge to be different as a means of being smart.... The lower-income groups would like to show more for the money than they can find in the diamonds they can afford."
To remedy these problems, the advertising agency argued that "it is essential that these pressures be met by the constant publicity to show that only the diamond is everywhere accepted and recognized as the symbol of betrothal."
N. W. Ayer was constantly searching for new ways to influence American public opinion during this period. Not only did it organize a service to "release to the women's pages [of daily newspapers] all the fresh material that we can find or create about the engagement ring," but it set about exploiting the relatively new medium of television by arranging for actresses and other celebrities to wear diamonds when they appeared before the camera. It also established a "Diamond Information Bureau," which placed a quasi-official stamp of authority on the flood of "historical" data and "news" it released. "We work hard to keep ourselves known throughout the publishing world as the source of information on diamonds," it commented in a memorandum to De Beers, and added, "Because we have done it successfully, we have opportunities to help with articles originated by others." Among such successes, for example, the agency pointed to an article in the National Geographic exalting diamonds that it had helped prepare.
When sociologists such as Thorstein Veblen popularized in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class the idea that Americans were motivated in their purchases, not by utility, but by "conspicuous consumption," N. W. Ayer proposed applying this sociological insight to the diamond market. "The substantial diamond gift can be made a more widely sought symbol of personal and family success an expression of socio-economic achievement."
To exploit this psychological need of Americans to conspicuously display symbols of their wealth, N. W. Ayer specifically recommended: "Promote the diamond as one material object which can reflect, in a very personal way, a man's ... success in life." Since this campaign would require advertisements addressed to upwardly mobile men, the ad agency suggested that ideally they "should have the aroma of tweed, old leather and polished wood which is characteristic of a good club." In other words they were to evoke in men the sweet smell of success.
To further develop the diamond mind in America, N. W. Ayer asked both psychologists and sociologists to analyze "basic human wants," such as "comfort," "freedom from fear," "longer life," "the ability to attract the opposite sex," and "social approval." It justified this psychological investigation to De Beers in the following terms: "An advertiser who can make a close and believable association between one or more of the "basic human wants" and his product, can rouse a more vigorous and more universal demand for his product and in the process tend to separate this demand from control by consumers' current economic situation."
The point of this manipulation was to create in consumers a desire for diamonds that had been subliminally linked through advertising with other "basic human wants." Dr. James Bossard, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, observed in a report that he prepared for N. W. Ayer: ~ The engagement ring . . . is a symbol of the ability to get your man in the competitive race. . . . It has the further features that it is not easily given (too expensive), it is visible (it sparkles), it is permanent (other things wear out), and it advertises the economic status of the giver. . . . Large scale society makes for impersonal relations. One result of this is to place marked emphasis upon outward manifestations and visible evidence." He concluded "Conspicuous consumption becomes more impressive than quiet confidence. . . . Symbols are indicators of status.... A formal and visible symbol of approaching marriage becomes a vital necessity in a large office, a big university, a large plant."
In its strategy plan, N. W. Ayer strongly endorsed the professor's analysis. It added also that in terms of fashion "women are conditioned to want what is shown in the fashion news." It asserted that through psychologically designed advertising and public relations, women could be further conditioned to think of diamonds as a necessity of life.
For some sixteen years, N. W. Ayer carefully cultivated the romantic image in the public's mind that a diamond was a unique manifestation of nature and the rarest of all precious objects in the world. Then, in 1955, the General Electric Company announced with considerable fanfare that it had invented a process for manufacturing diamonds from ordinary carbon, which was the commonest element on earth. At the behest of De Beers, the advertising agency immediately began feeding stories to the press intended to dispel fears that the mass production of cheap diamonds was imminent.
The crisis of synthetic diamonds soon passed from public attention. N. W. Ayer reported back to De Beers, "At the time of the [General Electric] announcement there were, quite naturally, some expressions of uneasiness in the gem trade . . . but with each passing week the announcement is falling into perspective." It added, "We have fortunately been in a position to counsel trade organizations on communicating a relaxed point of view to their members."
Toward the end of the 1950s, N. W. Ayer reviewed its achievements in fostering, if not wholly inventing, the diamond engagement tradition. It reported to its client in South Africa that twenty years of subtle but well orchestrated advertisements and publicity had had a pronounced effect on the American psyche. "Since 1939 an entirely new generation of young people has grown to marriageable age," it noted with unmistakable pride of accomplishment. "To this new generation a diamond ring is considered a necessity to engagement to virtually everyone." The message had been so successfully impressed on the minds of this generation that those who could not afford to buy a diamond at the time of their marriage "deferred the purchase" rather than for going it. Not only had the twenty-year advertising campaign helped De Beers "sell current production" from its diamond mines, but, more importantly, it had elevated diamonds in the American mind to "cherished possessions" which, according to N. W. Ayer, helped "keep previous production in the hands of the consumer . . . and off the retail market." Even in a severe economic pinch, diamonds would not be resold by consumers who had subsumed the advertising pitch "A Diamond Is Forever."
N. W. Ayer proposed that instant engagement traditions should be invented for other countries. In its 1960 strategy plan it suggested, "The idea of developing a public diamond engagement tradition in countries where it does not exist . . . has been volunteered by leading jewelers in those countries." It noted that Germany and Sweden would be two outstanding targets for such an invention. Specifically, it said that an international engagement ring tradition would: "enlarge the market for smaller diamonds . . . insure regular growth by broadening the market base . . . [and] help to keep diamonds in safe hands by making them cherished possessions of more people throughout the world." To this end, the foreign language editions of Reader's Digest were recommended as a means of introducing the diamond message abroad.
N. W. Ayer recognized in its analysis that some countries already had "firmly rooted" traditions of exchanging simple gold rings to symbolize the engagement, and that in these countries it would not be possible to uproot instantly the existing tradition. Initially, it therefore suggested a campaign to associate diamonds with a "gift of love."
The campaign to internationalize the diamond mind began in earnest in the mid-1960s. The prime targets were Japan, Germany and Brazil. Since N. W. Ayer was primarily an American advertising agency, De Beers brought in the J. Walter Thompson agency, which had especially strong advertising subsidiaries in Japan, Germany and Brazil, to place most of its international advertising. Within ten years, De Beers succeeded even beyond its most optimistic expectations in creating a billion-dollar-a-year diamond tradition in Japan. In Germany and Brazil, De Beers met with more moderate success.
In America, which still remained the ultimate market for most of De Beers' diamonds, N. W. Ayer developed a plan for insulating diamond sales from the cyclical swings in the economy that affected most luxury goods. In 1960, it suggested a series of advertising messages which would gradually induce consumers into perceiving diamonds in terms of sentiments, such as love, instead of valuable gems which could be disposed of in hard times. Specifically, the "engagement advertising strategy" for the 1960s involved three steps:
1. To attach to the diamond the meaning of the engagement period;
2. Conversely, to identify with the engagement period the romance, beauty, uniqueness, value and permanence of the diamond;
3. To express these ideas frequently to a clear majority of the U.S. families capable of responding.
N. W. Ayer then outlined a "psychology" for sentimentalizing diamonds: "The first time that a man spoke to a woman of his love, devotion, and expressed the wish never to be parted from her ... the symbol of the first milestone was a diamond. The engagement diamond. This diamond ring ... was a badge for the outside world to see. It gave the woman her status as a woman, the prestige of a woman. Nothing else could take the place of the diamond." However, as the years go by, the woman needs further reassurance that her husband still loves her, according to this psychological profile. "Candies come, flowers come, furs come," the study continues, but such ephemeral gifts fall to satisfy the woman's psychological craving for "a renewal of the romance." A diamond, however, which originally symbolized the commitment of love, could serve to fill this emotional "later-in-life" need.
The advertising agencies therefore recommended that De Beers initiate a program of advertisements which would instill in the public's mind that the gift of a second diamond, in the later years of marriage, would be accepted as a sign of "ever growing love." It argued that the development of a new "later-in-life" diamond market would be necessary to absorb the increasing supply of diamonds from South Africa, because the number of engagement diamonds was more or less fixed by the number of marriages in America. Specifically, it recommended a campaign to "reach deeper into the population to sell gift (later-in-life) diamonds in order to increase demand," and in 1962 it asked authorization to "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."
De Beers immediately approved the campaign since the diamond mind had to be now expanded to accommodate the surfeit of Siberian diamonds that De Beers undertook to market for the Russians. Almost all of these diamonds were under one-half carat in their uncut form, and there was no ready retail outlet for millions of such tiny diamonds. When it made its secret deal with the Soviet Union, De Beers had expected the production from the Siberian mines to gradually decrease. Instead, it accelerated at an incredible pace, and De Beers was forced to restructure its sales strategy.
Up to. this point, De Beers itself had been largely responsible for reducing the market for small, under one-carat diamonds. Through its twenty-year advertising campaign, it had encouraged American women to think of the size of a diamond as a status symbol or "badge": The larger the diamond, the more status it represented. During this period, N. W. Ayer had surreptitiously authored film scenario and news stories which constantly depicted women as measuring a man's commitment by the number of carats in the diamond he gave her. The engagement reports on celebrities that N. W. Ayer circulated also emphasized "caratage," or size, rather than quality. Diamonds were portrayed as "a girl's best friend" if they were conspicuously large. Now, however, De Beers had N. W. Ayer to reverse its theme: Women were no longer to be led to equate the status and emotional commitment in an engagement with the sheer size of the diamond. Instead, a "strategy for small diamond sales" was outlined which involved stressing the "importance of quality, color and cut" over size, and in advertisement pictures substituting "one-quarter carat" rings for "Up to 2 carat" rings. Moreover, the advertising, agency began in its international campaign to "illustrate gems -as small as one-tenth of a carat and give them the same emotional importance as larger stones." The symbolic content of the news releases was also to be manipulated so that women would be induced to think of diamonds, regardless of their size, as objects of perfection: A small diamond could be as perfect as a large diamond.
The new campaign met with considerable success. The average size of a diamond, which was one carat in 1939, fell to none-quarter carat by the late 1970s. This smaller size coincided almost exactly with the average size of the Siberian diamonds that De Beers. was now distributing. However, as American consumers became gradually accustomed to the idea of buying smaller diamonds, they began to perceive of the larger diamonds as "flashy" and ostentatious. The advertising success was beginning, however, to take on the aspects of a financial disaster. In its 1978 strategy report, N. W. Ayer notes "a supply problem has developed . . . that has had a significant effect on diamond pricing." It then explains that this problem proceeds from its long-term campaign to stimulate the sale of small diamonds. "Owing to successful pricing, distribution and advertising policies over the last 15 years, demand for small diamonds now appears to have significantly exceeded supply even though supply, in absolute terms, has been increasing steadily." But whereas there was not a sufficient supply of small diamonds to meet the demands of consumers, N. W. Ayer reported that "large stone sales [one carat and up] ... have maintained the sluggish pace of the last three years." Because of this, the memorandum continued, "large stones are being . . . discounted by as much as 20%." In other words, by heightening the appeal of minute diamonds, the advertising campaign had inadvertently diminished the salability of the larger diamonds. Since the larger stones were far more profitable to sell than the smaller ones, De Beers and its clients were being deprived of potential profits.
Despite this embarrassing "supply problem," N. W. Ayer argued that "small stone jewelry advertising" should not be totally abandoned. "Serious trade relationship problems would ensue if, after 15 years of stressing 'affordable' small stone jewelry, we were to drop all of these programs," it pointed out. Instead, it suggested a subtle change in "emphasis" in presenting diamonds to the American public. In the advertisements, it planned such "adjustments" as replacing smaller diamonds with one carat and over stones, and resuming both an "informative advertising campaign" and an "emotive program" which would serve to "reorient consumer tastes and price perspectives towards acceptance of solitaire [single stone] jewelry rather than multi-stone pieces." Other "strategic refinements" it recommended were designed to restore the large diamond to being a visible symbol of conspicuous consumption. "In fact, this [campaign] will be the exact opposite of the small stone informative program that ran from 1965 to 1970 that popularized the 'beauty in miniature' concept. . . ." With an advertising budget for America of nearly ten million dollars, N. W. Ayer appeared confident that it could bring about this "reorientation."
N. W. Ayer further attempted to plumb the diamond mind in the mid-1970s by retaining the firm of Daniel Yankelovich, Inc., to poll a representative sample of the American public on its attitude toward diamonds. The study was continued over five years, and from this highly sophisticated analysis of public opinion emerged a rather surprising picture of a man, rather than a woman, as "the key figure in the diamond jewelry acquisition process."
In the case of engagement rings, men played a dominant role in 88 percent of the purchases; indeed, in 46 percent of the purchases, the man bought the ring without any participation whatsoever from his fiancee. In purchasing other pieces of diamond jewelry, the study found that women also only rarely participated in the decision. "Not only is a woman unlikely to buy diamond jewelry for herself," the study continued, "she is also unlikely to buy diamonds for anyone else." The essence of the diamond transaction was that it was a gift from man to woman.
The gift, moreover, contained an important element of surprise. "Approximately half of all diamond jewelry that the men have given and the women have received were given with zero participation or knowledge on the part of the woman recipient," the Yankelovich study pointed out. N. W. Ayer explored this "surprise factor" in an analysis that observed: "Women are in unanimous agreement that they want to be surprised with gifts.... They want, of course, to be surprised for the thrill of it. However, a deeper, more important reason lies behind this desire . freedom from guilt." Some women had pointed out that if their husbands enlisted their help in purchasing a gift, like diamond jewelry, their practical nature would come to the fore and they would be compelled to object to the purchase.
Women were not totally surprised by diamond gifts: Some 84 percent of the men in the study "knew somehow" that the women wanted diamond jewelry. The study suggested a two step "gift-process continuum." First, "the man 'learns' diamonds are O.K." from the woman; then, "at some later point in time, he makes the diamond purchase decision" to surprise the woman.
Through a series of "projective" psychological questions, meant "to draw out a respondent's innermost feelings about diamond jewelry," the study attempted to further examine the curious semi-passive role played by women in the diamond relationship. The man-woman roles seemed to closely resemble the sex relations in a Victorian novel. "Man plays the dominant, active role in the gift process. Woman's role is more subtle, more oblique, more enigmatic. . . ." Like Victorian sex, women seemed to believe there was something improper about receiving a diamond gift. They spoke about large diamonds as "flashy, gaudy, overdone and otherwise inappropriate." Yet, through its psychological probing of the female mind, the study found, "Buried in the negative attitudes ... lies what is probably the primary driving force for acquiring them. Diamonds are a traditional and conspicuous signal of achievement, status and success." It noted, for example, "A woman can easily feel that diamonds are 'vulgar' and still be highly enthusiastic about receiving diamond jewelry." The element of "surprise, even if it is feigned, plays the same role of accommodating dissonance in accepting a diamond gift as it does in prim sexual seductions: it permits the woman to pretend that she has not actively participated in the decision. She thus retains both her innocence and the diamond."
In projecting from this data a strategy for De Beers for the future, N. W. Ayer suggested that the objective of advertising was "to perpetuate the positioning of diamond 'jewelry as the most special of all gifts, so that men will continue to 'know' and women continue to 'teach' that diamonds are acceptable and wanted." While the advertising agency candidly recognized that "available research has not shed light on how the man learns that a diamond gift would be acceptable to his wife," it nevertheless pressed for a campaign of highly emotive advertising that would reinforce this cryptic male "awareness" of female "receptivity." Specifically, it suggested that the "tone of the copy" should project "a strong sense of confidence in the voice of the giver that the gift will be especially well received." Ideally, the male reader should be enabled "to project himself into the situation and . . . play the role of the giver and anticipate the rewards associated with a gift of diamonds." For example, an advertisement might depict a beautiful woman, gushing with love and admiration, as she is surprised by the diamond gift while the male giver stands smugly by. No matter how uninterested men might be in diamonds themselves, these advertisements should convey "the extraordinary reaction that can be expected from the gift." The artwork in these advertisements should, N. W. Ayer further recommended, play to "a known positive attitude in women that a gift of this sort is preferred as a surprise."
Finally, "A significant male appeal implicit in the surprise situation is the strong implication that the gift will be a success." N. W. Ayer concluded that such a campaign would provide "an emotional appeal that is highly motivating to men."
For the continued shaping of the diamond mind, the implications of this psychological research were clear. To induce men to buy women diamonds, advertising should focus not on the qualities and beauty of the diamond itself, but on the emotional impact of the "surprise" gift transaction. In the final analysis, men were not moved to part with their earnings by the value, aesthetics or tradition of diamonds, but by the expectation that a "gift of love" would enhance their standing in the eyes of their beloved. On the other hand, women accepted the gift as a tangible symbol of their status and achievement. Playing off the duality of the male-female relationship, N. W. Ayer helped De Beers expand its sales of diamonds in the United States from a mere $23 million in 1939 to over $2 billion, at the wholesale level by 1980. In two-score years, the value of its sales had increased nearly a hundred-fold. In comparison, the expenditure on advertisements, which began at a level of only $200,000 a year and gradually increased to $10 million, seemed a prudent investment by De Beers. It had, after all, helped evolve an American diamond mind capable of absorbing the abundance of diamonds from both Africa and Siberia.