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The slogan for a long-waited generic diamond marketing campaign appears to elevate the concept of scarcity above that of love. Could we be disregarding the primary emotional motivation for buying a diamond in favor of an illusion of rarity?

Fifty years ago, just as a “diamond is forever,” love was supposed to be forever. Then, with more than 70 percent of adult Americans married, it was little wonder that diamond ad campaigns focused on emphasizing the importance of purchasing a diamond to mark any occasion in the life of a wed couple.

Times change. By the time we entered the 21st century, the number of married couples had fallen to roughly half the adult American population. Climbing divorce rates were changing the perception of “forever.”

And there seemed to be other opportunities out there. Marketing evolved to focus also on liberated and independent women, who it was supposed are more likely to buy diamonds for themselves. De Beers launched its right-hand finger campaign in 2001, which was based on a decidedly not-too-clever premise that, since a woman is not at liberty to make free use of the ring finger on her left hand, which as we all know is reserved for the exclusive use of those who are married or about to get married, the ring finger on the right hand is still available for other purposes. Unsurprisingly, it was not a particularly successful campaign.

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The right-hand ring campaign was only one of many approaches and tactics employed in recent years to target the growingly diverse community of diamond consumers. They include the divorced, the still single, independent women, working women, liberated women and more.

But there was one thing that the advertisers didn’t really take into account. In the 21st century love may not always be forever, but desire to establish a loving relationship is as strong as it always was. And since, for the vast majority of consumers the ultimate decision to buy a fine diamond is primarily emotional, the symbolic association between the diamond and love remains critical.

Rare or Well Done?

Let us fast-forward to 2016, and the recent announce that the new ad slogan that will replace the legendary “a diamond is forever, is “real is rare.”

What seems to be the case is that an emotional motivator was discarded in favor of a one that is primarily economic. But there are several fundamental problems with this strategy. One is the apparent decision to relinquish the association with the most important emotional incentive for buying a diamond, and that is love. Another is bestowing the title of rarity on a product that is not particularly rare.

According to Statista, 130 million carats of diamonds – around 26,000 kilograms – are currently being produced annually from mines worldwide. In 2004 and 2005 production was running at about 176 million carats.

That is a large number of diamonds, which in the jewelry industry is by far the most popular gemstone, outgunning all the colored stones together in terms of value by a factor of six to one.

But is that due to its rarity? Almost certainly not. Stones like tanzanite, which is mined in a single location, or alexandrite and red beryl, are exceedingly rarer, but fine diamonds are typically more in demand, and consequently more valuable.

What sets the diamond apart is the way in which it has been marketed, not to mention how much money was invested in that effort. The stroke of genius in instilling in the public consciousness a “diamond is forever,” which incidentally was selected as the best ad slogan of the 20th century by Advertising Age, created the unbreakable link between the diamond and love.

A Prisoner's Dilemma

We now come to the latest challenge to face our industry, and that is synthetic diamonds. Now, it could be said that a person who wants to express his or her love should not compromise with a mass produced, made-made product, but rather choose a unique diamond created randomly in nature millions of years ago. But in the low price ranges, where the emotional and financial investment is lower, synthetics appear to be posing a considerably greater challenge. There the man-made products have tripled their market share.

The mining companies reacted to the rising number of synthetics in these product ranges by flooding the market. In so doing, they not only placed their clients under undue pressure, but they undermined the very claim of rarity that they say they want to advance.

Synthetics pose a considerable challenge, but it would appear sensible to limit the damage, and then be better equipped to reinforce the advantageous position that natural diamonds already have in the finer quality classes, rather than trying to make quick buck at your clients’ expense.

The situation is reminiscent of what was called “a prisoner's dilemma,” which was described in 1950 by game theory experts Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher. It looked at alternative strategies and their costs and benefits, by co-dependent parties who do not communicate with one another.

The situation that was described involved two alleged criminals, who had committed a crime together and then been arrested by police, who separated them for questioning. The police lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a full conviction, meaning that, if both criminals stayed silent, they would receive a jail sentence of just one year. But the police make an offer to both sides that if one testifies against the other, and the other remains silent, the person testifying will walk free, while the silent prisoner will receive a 15-year jail term. However, if they both testify against each other, they each will receive a five-year jail term.

Flood and Dresher’s experiment showed that, in most cases, prisoners who cannot communicate with one another will not to trust their co-dependent’s intentions, and so choose to testify against one another. This means that the five-year jail sentence was the most common outcome.

The optimal form of cooperation, which would have resulted in a mitigated sentence of just one year, was an uncommon outcome. People’s tendency, it seems, is to assume the worst, and so suffer greater damage than otherwise would be necessary.

And so it is in today’s diamond business. The introduction of synthetics into the market is difficult for all of us, but it can be mitigated through cooperation and communication. Acting independently without proper concern for all players in the industry undermines the value of the product for everyone. When it possible to get something at low cost, the last thing the customer is interested in is the degree of scarcity of the product.

So, do you know why a woman wants a diamond? Because finding love is rare.

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