Why a Diamond is Forever

The ads told her it was. The ads said that you should buy make-up, and colour your hair, and drink Coke so that you will be the sort of attractive that men can’t resist
– Alyssa Brugman, Solo (Allen & Unwin, 2007)

As well as Alyssa Brugman’s amazing (if harrowing) book, I’ve been reading The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement by Michael Strangelove (University of Toronto Press, 2005). In the first chapter our saturation in advertising is discussed.

I don’t think much of diamonds or diamond engagement rings. My mother never had an engagement ring and has lived her married life happily without it. I always thought they’re a waste of money. If someone proposed to me with one I’d probably say no because he obviously doesn’t know me well enough to know my views on such wasteful consumption.

What I didn’t know about diamond rings was that the phrase

A diamond is forever

is the result of the highly successful 1947 campaign of the N.W. Ayers advertising agency. [2] Ayers said they were

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. (p.24)

Translation: a diamond ring has no utility; we’ll make it seem useful and thus necessary. Strangelove sums up,

Sixty years later, global consumer attitudes towards diamond rings remain highly engineered by the market’s propaganda system…As is often the case, the marketplace’s value system compels the consumer to act, while at the same time defining the acceptable parameters of action. (p.25)

If I ever wondered where the phrase came from (which I never did), James Bond may have come to mind. But then James Bond is just another brand, manufactured to sell product. When I was a teenager I went to the cinema to see one of the Bronson Bond movies and I was disgusted by the product placement, wondering (aloud) every time I saw it, how much each company had paid. I’m now wondering (aloud) how I ended up at a cinema watching it, but I was young.

Few individuals are willing to admit that advertising plays a substantial role in their choices or their sense of identity. In the midst of history’s most expensive and omnipresent propaganda system there remains widespread disbelief in advertising’s efficacy. (p.29)

I hate advertising, but I still get sucked in. I don’t eat fast food, but when a fast food ad comes on TV, my mouth waters. A couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for frozen oven chips on TV. I buy these, even though I wish I wasn’t so lazy, and when I saw the ad I thought, “I could eat some of them” and I put some in the oven.

new growth on my tree

Back to diamonds, I would much prefer someone give me the original tree than a diamond ring – a tree that’s been there for decades and will continue (perhaps) hundreds of years after we’re no more. On the topic of trees, the tuart tree I planted in my garden is slowing shooting upwards. With the spring rain it has lots of reddish new shoots and it’s more than a metre – onward and upward.


Offline Sources

  • Brugman, Alyssa (2007) Solo. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • Strangelove, Michael (2005) The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Some fiction

When corporations and their advertising are in control (not really all that different to the world we live in)

Privacy is an outdated concept, Barrett.

2 thoughts on “Why a Diamond is Forever

  1. I completely agree about diamonds and engagement rings. I don’t think diamonds look that amazing, for a start, and then when I learned about the suffering people go through to mine them that decided me.

    I didn’t have/want an engagement ring, and was quite happy without one, although a lot of people around me were quietly horrified that i didn’t have one. (and like you, if my husband-to-be had suggested getting one I would have realised he didn’t really know me at all…)

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