Last month, De Beers announced it would spend $20 million on a “Seize the Day” campaign touting natural diamonds.
De Beers first used “Seize the Day” in the 1990s—which is long enough ago that I couldn’t get an exact year of launch. It’s been brought back at least once since then. De Beers is also taking its iconic “A Diamond Is Forever” slogan out of mothballs; that, too, has been repeatedly resurrected.
With these refreshed versions of old campaigns, De Beers is arguably selling a new product: natural diamonds. Historically, De Beers has advertised “diamonds” as a category. More recently, it’s touted Forevermark and the De Beers retail chain. But it hasn’t done much category marketing for “natural diamonds,” until now. That’s a sign of growing lab-grown sales, and a response to a lack of confidence in the market.
The current crisis is, like most diamond crises, partly psychological. Many fear that lab-grown has taken a permanent part of the pie.
How bad is the mood? In January, the G7 will likely impose sanctions on Russian polished diamonds. That will, at a minimum, be a hassle for gem importers. One would think the trade would stock up before then. Instead, it’s shutting down.
What group is anxiously pining for the return of “A Diamond Is Forever”? Not younger people. They aren’t that familiar with a slogan that debuted just after World War II. When the the Natural Diamond Council’s predecessor, the Diamond Producers Association, surveyed younger consumers, it found the concept of “forever” didn’t always resonate with them.
But you know who loves and remembers that slogan? People in the industry—especially those of us who have been around a while. The tagline “has real energy and sentiment for retailers,” De Beers chief brand officer David Prager told me when announcing the campaign.
Some have wondered why this effort isn’t being run by the Natural Diamond Council (NDC)—which is largely funded by De Beers, now that Alrosa has taken a walk. Prager says that’s because De Beers owns the intellectual property for “Seize the Day” and “A Diamond Is Forever.” Which makes sense, though De Beers could have licensed them. I’m guessing it’s because the NDC hasn’t turned into the Diamond Promotion Service 2.0—as much as some would like it to.
Instead, the NDC has largely followed its own path—focusing on online content, social media, and general image building. That is, like it or not, where the world is going. Every year, I do a holiday commercials focus group. Lately, I’ve wondered about its value. When we talk to millennials and Gen Z-ers, we hear that they usually don’t watch TV, so they don’t see commercials.
Many in the industry do, however, and they complain they don’t see the NDC’s spots. I frequently hear, “Where are the TV ads?” Trade members long for the days when De Beers spent $200 million a year on advertising, and its ads took over Grand Central Station. That all ended in the mid-2000s. But if they can bring back Frasier, they can revive some De Beers warhorses.
The natural business is now locked in a pitched battle to protect its turf. But before it gets to the crucial task of winning back consumers, it needs to win back the trade.
The current vogue for lab-growns has been led partly by the public and partly by retailers, who’ve enjoyed greater margins with synthetics. But bigger margins mean nothing when your prices keeps sinking.
Take this 2022 sponsored spot from Robbins Brothers. It touts both the store and the idea of lab-grown diamonds. I’ve probably seen 100 videos like it.
Robbins Brothers now says it wants to bring “natural diamonds back into the conversation.” Jewelers who spent the past few years telling consumers “there’s no difference between lab and natural” and “only lab-growns are eco-friendly” are now saying, “Well, actually…” It’s hard to build your future on a product whose price is in perpetual freefall. As the head of one jewelry chain says, “We all need to pivot back to natural [diamonds] and hope we can convince customers to come with us.”
But that can’t happen when the natural business is in a panic and has its own issues with falling prices. It doesn’t help that De Beers—the diamond mining king—has sometimes sent mixed messages on lab-growns.
De Beers’ holiday campaign could improve sales during the season—the company is giving retailers the option to use it free of charge. Still, I believe De Beers’ true aim is not just swaying consumers but convincing the industry the natural business has a future.
“Let’s get back together,” it’s saying. “Yes, you may have a fling with lab-grown. We did too. That’s over now. Remember the old days? We can rekindle the magic.”
Will that happen? Who knows? My sense is the damage has been done, and the traditional industry has a long fight on its hands.
With “A Diamond Is Forever,” “Seize the Day,” and Christmas ads coming to a billboard near you, De Beers is getting the band back together, and it’s playing the hits. The trade is, of course, ecstatic. De Beers knows its audience.
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