Industry titan De Beers, with the help of American agency N.W. Ayer, turned the stone into a cultural symbol of love and a prerequisite for marriage. The slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” is one of the most iconic marketing slogans ever conceived and has been in use for decades.de
But while a diamond might indeed be forever, the days of easy selling has proven not to be. Sales of diamonds are slowing and the industry faces a number of secular headwinds.
Consumers are increasingly socially-conscious and incorporating corporate social responsibility (CSR) considerations into their purchasing decisions. The diamond industry has been plagued by concerns ranging from child labor to “blood diamonds”, diamonds mined in regions racked by violent conflict. These concerns can be enough to convince some consumers not to shun diamonds.
Many consumers today prefer to spend money on experiences. In the context of a marriage, this might mean spending more on a lavish honeymoon than splurging on a diamond engagement ring. The experiences-over-things trend is especially pronounced among younger consumers.
Broad awareness of the fact that the diamond industry, and De Beers in particular, controls the supply of diamonds. This has fueled the understanding that diamonds technically aren’t as rare as one might assume based on their cost, leading some consumers to question their value.
Some consumers are opting to use alternative stones for their engagement rings. While cost is often a factor in such decisions, gems like emeralds, rubies and sapphires, which are actually rarer than diamonds yet cheaper, can be attractive to couples who want to do something different and unique.
The technology for producing lab-grown diamonds has matured and these are now commercially competitive. Lab-grown diamonds give consumers a less expensive alternative, every bit as “real” as a non-lab-grown diamond, that doesn’t carry with it the social baggage.
So how is an industry that thrived in large part on marketing brilliance fighting these trends? Here are five of the things it is doing.
Running educational marketing campaigns
The diamond industry thrived by associating a diamond with lasting love and amplifying the cultural custom in which a marriage proposal involved a diamond engagement ring. But today, the diamond industry has clearly found that it also has to run campaigns that are more practical than romantic.
Specifically, it is engaged in campaigns that seek to educate consumers about diamonds and the industry. On a microsite run by the Diamond Producers Association (DPA), visitors are educated about the natural properties of diamonds and their cultural history. A Buying Guide directly addresses “myths and misconceptions” related to conflict diamonds, mining safety and the industry’s makeup, and an Impact page discusses the contributions the industry says it makes to communities and the impact it says it has on the environment.
Evolving the customer experience for diamond shoppers
In almost every retail market, consumer preferences and behaviors have changed. In an effort to ensure that it is meeting the needs and expectations of today’s consumers, the diamond industry is rethinking the customer experience for retail diamond buyers.
For example, De Beers created an iPad app that shoppers can use in-store to tailor the design of their engagement ring and in 2016, opened a new flagship store on Madison Avenue. And just last year, it opened the 1,000th store for its Forevermark subsidiary in China using a new “Libert’aime” concept designed to woo Chinese millennials.
Continuing to embrace influencers
Movie stars were a central part of the strategy N.W. Ayer developed with De Beers. As The Atlantic recounted in 1982, “Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love.” The agency arranged for celebrities to appear on television wearing diamonds and in the 1940s, ran a weekly “Hollywood Personalities” service that distributed descriptions of diamonds worn by celebrities to over 100 top newspapers.
Today, the diamond industry continues to lean on celebrity influencers. The DPA, for instance, has partnered with celebrities including Lucy Hale, Tiffany Haddish, Peyton List and Holland Roden to support its Real is a Diamond campaign. And in China, Forevermark has teamed up with Chinese celebrity and key opinion leader (KOL) Timmy Xu to design a new collection.
Advertising on alternative digital platforms
The diamond industry is turning to popular but often-underutilized digital platforms including Reddit, where the DPA is running video promoted posts for its Real is a Diamond campaign.
Reddit is now home to more than 400m monthly active users but has a reputation for being a tricky environment for brands. Among other things, Reddit users can upvote and downvote promoted posts and comment on them the same way they can regular posts. As such, the DPA’s ads on Reddit demonstrate that it is willing to take on some risk to reach and engage with consumers online.
Investing in lab-grown diamonds
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. After fighting the rise of lab-grown diamonds, industry giant De Beers decided to hedge its bets by launching a new direct-to-consumer brand, Lightbox.
When it debuted, Bruce Cleaver, De Beers’ CEO, stated that the new venture would “transform the labgrown diamond sector by offering consumers a lab-grown product they have told us they want but aren’t getting: affordable fashion jewelry that may not be forever, but is perfect for right now.”
In October, De Beers announced a trial to establish a Lightbox brick-and-mortar presence by making its diamonds available at select Bloomingdale’s and Reeds Jewelers stores.