Diamond Sales Hit Record; De Beers Looks For More

An emphasis on quality and an effort to find the “new tennis bracelet” mark the 1996 effort to boost diamond jewelry sales.

U.S. consumers bought $13.7 billion worth of diamond jewelry in 1995, up 6% from 1994, according to J. Walter Thompson, De Beers’ advertising agency.

“Consumers are continuing to show a marked interest in high-quality goods that have lasting value instead of disposable items with a trendy orientation.” says Jim Haag, a senior partner at JWT. “This is a particularly encouraging sign for us because our marketing efforts this year will be highly geared toward emphasizing diamond value and quality.”

To evaluate the prospects for this year, JWT conducted a consumer survey and several focus groups. The survey found that 66% of married men are interested in giving their wives diamond jewelry this year. To persuade them to make that purchase, JWT has outlined a strategy that emphasizes the “specialness” of the diamond and the wearer. For example, advertising for the 25th Anniversary Diamond category this year will feature fancy-shaped diamonds larger than a carat to emphasize the “special” message.

The De Beers ads also will continue their ever-increasing emphasis on quality. This ties in with De Beers’ and JWT’s assessment that selling more expensive jewelry is the best way to increase sales totals. “Our overall objective for 1996 will be to trade up the value of diamond jewelry acquisition in the U.S., as well as grow the market in general,” says Derek Palmer, De Beers’ U.S. market controller.

De Beers has increased its ad budget 8% over last year’s $42 million (the company declines to release the actual amount for 1996). And it’s putting more than ever into the Shadows television ad campaign. The reason: it works. Research has found that consumers who see De Beers’ ads are more likely to buy diamond jewelry and more willing to spend more for it.

In addition, JWT is putting more of its resources into advertising but streamlining its overhead and operations, says Haag. Last year, JWT’s ad budget for the De Beers account was 78% of total spending, up from 67% in 1992.

Pushing sales: De Beers hopes the push for quality diamonds will help to increase U.S. diamond jewelry sales to almost $18 billion by 1998.

Haag believes this goal is “very achievable” because a JWT survey of American women showed that expectations of receiving diamond jewelry are higher than ever – higher even than during the consumer spending binge of the 1980s. They hope to achieve this growth by creating a new product category similar to the tennis bracelet phenomenon that erupted after tennis pro Chris Evert dropped a diamond line bracelet during a televised match a decade ago.

They’re placing their bets on the diamond solitaire necklace featuring good-quality stones of at least a half carat. JWT has already begun the groundwork for a big promotion this fall by placing the necklaces on celebrities. Whoopi Goldberg, for example, wore one in her promotional spots for the Academy Awards presentation this spring. “We plan to create excitement by showing celebrities and fashion models wearing them,” says Linda Passaro, JWT marketing manager.

One of the ads will feature a guess-the-celebrity competition featuring an extreme close-up photograph of a celebrity wearing a necklace. “Once people think everyone’s wearing them, they’ll want a necklace as well. That’s how we will build this product.”

When looking for the next tennis bracelet, researchers found two potential favorites: the solitaire necklace and a designer-type bangle bracelet. Further research found the necklace was far and away the best choice for the 1990s, where quality, value and basics are lifestyle trends.

For the first time, JWT will target women as self-purchase diamond customers. “One reason,” says Passaro, “is that most women believe they could justify the expense because they would wear the piece all the time.”

JWT intends to create trade interest in the solitaire necklace by creating a competition that encourages manufacturers to come up with fresh looks to further pique consumer interest.

Trading up: The diamond solitaire is the vanguard of De Beers’ effort to beef up its quality-diamond trade-up message.

In recent years, De Beers has sought in its advertising campaigns to reinforce the quality diamond market to serve as a counterweight to discount advertising campaigns by mass merchandisers at the lower end.

The quality message is reinforced in a new guide for men who are contemplating buying diamond jewelry for women.

Haag says the effort has paid off. People who have seen and remembered a De Beers ad expect to pay $3,746 for a diamond anniversary band, compared with $2,565 for those who didn’t see or remember.

In addition, JWT found that 54% of women now believe a single larger diamond is better than a piece of jewelry “with a lot of little diamonds.” In 1991, only 41% said they believed that was the case. Accordingly, De Beers advertisements this year will feature carat or larger diamonds.