Sunday, February 1, 2009

Valentine's Day Special / Marketing Diamonds

New World Notes News

Volume 2, Number 6 -- February 10, 2009

Radio note: As New World Notes approaches its first anniversary (February 12), it has been picked up by a third station: KRFP-FM 92.5 / Radio Free Moscow [Idaho] ( Radio Free Moscow is much like the two Connecticut stations that broadcast the show: WWUH-FM (West Hartford) and WHUS-FM (Storrs). It's 24/7, nonprofit, and dedicated to providing the community with "alternative" music and commentary.

I'm flattered and honored. And I'm having great fun telling everyone that the show is now nationally syndicated.

This week in New World Notes, #51 -- February 10 & 13:

Most of the Progressive, "alternative news and views" radio series are probably doing Valentine's Day (VD) shows this week. Probably half of them are focusing on the misery, exploitation, and pollution involved in manufacturing the chocolate in that Whitman's Sampler VD present.

Not us. We think VD should be a friendly, happy day. Instead of condemning Big Chocolate, we'll be celebrating those wonderful folks who run the world's most successful illegal monopoly, the Diamond Cartel--a.k.a. DeBeers.

"Men grow cold as girls grow old, / And we all lose our charms in the end.
But square-cut or pear-shape, these rocks won't lose
their shape:
Product-placement 'way back then!"

In fact, this program does not get into the misery, pain, war, and death created by the process of getting the diamonds from Africa's earth to the expensive VD present in your sweetie's ear lobes. (We should get to that sometime.)

Instead, we'll focus on what Edward Jay Epstein calls "the diamond invention"--and on the brilliant promotional scheme by which (beginning 1938) American ad agency N.W. Ayres made Americans associate a nigh-useless and far-from-rare mineral with enduring love, commitment, romance, and marriage. And persuaded Americans that this association was a venerable cultural tradition, not just a new marketing ploy.

Early 1950s?

N.W. Ayres and DeBeers also practically invented the cash cow of the diamond biz: the Diamond Engagement Ring (DER). And persuaded millions of Americans that a man who failed to purchase one for his fiancee wasn't worth marrying in the first place. (Europeans got on the DER bandwagon later and in smaller numbers.) How much should a man spend on that all-important ring? "Two months' salary" seemed about right to the agency and the Cartel.

"A diamond is forever."
Yep, N.W. Ayres invented that tagline too.

From DeBeers' recent "Seize the Day" ad campaign:
real (top) and parody (bottom) magazine ads.

At the same time we tell the story of DeBeers' never-ending battles to restrict the supply of gem diamonds and to keep prices high--come hell, high water, or (worse) a flood of new diamonds from the USSR.

Epstein wrote a book on the diamond business, The Diamond Invention. He distilled a good deal of the book into an article published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1982. Lyn Gerry, producer and host of the Unwelcome Guests radio program, reads this very interesting and still-important article aloud (and much better than I could).

But what good would a VD show be without some romantic music?

Well, we'll find out. We will play more songs than usual, though. Two of them are Tom Lehrer parodies of romantic ballads; the third is--you should pardon the expression--a Kink-y love story. Not the cliche' boy-meets-girl plot-line. Rather, it's boy-meets- . . . er, . . . hmmmmmmm . . . . . . oh, what the hell!

Great tagline too: "It's Just a Rock." Like most parodies of DeBeers ads, this
one reveals the crassness underlying the poetic language of the original.

Links to online resources:

On the Web you'll find some classic "A Diamond Is Forever" magazine ads and a larger collection of parodies of various diamond ads. Most of the parodies are insightful, very funny, and too lewd to reproduce here! If you like that sort of thing, you could go to Google, select "Image" search, turn off the Safe Search anti-smut filter, and search for DeBeers diamond ad. I've reproduced in this blog entry a couple of rare and valuable clean parodies.

You'll also find Epstein's book, ( and Atlantic article (

This week's music:
  • Tom Lehrer, She's My Girl
  • Tom Lehrer, Wiener Schnitzel Waltz
  • Outro: The Kinks, Lola

Real jewelry ad from the Belgian couture house, Natan. Filled with self-referential
irony . . . both a parody of DeBeers ads and a distillation of the crude implicit
argument behind DeBeers' euphemistic prose . . . witty . . . sexy: Could this possibly
be more European? Don't even think of placing this ad in
The New Yorker!

Catch New World Notes . . .

East of the Rockies:
Tuesdays, Noon to 12:30 PM, WWUH-FM 91.3 (West Hartford) &
Fridays, 7:30 to 8:00 AM, WHUS-FM 91.7 (Storrs) &

West of the Rockies:
Saturdays, 4:00 to 4:30 PM, KRFP-FM 92.5 (Moscow, ID) &

Anywhere, Anytime:
Listen to or download any installment ... or subscribe to a podcast ... at A-Infos Radio Project:

More product placement. DeBeers even managed to place its product
upon the Royal Person of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Photo--from Epstein's
Diamond Invention--reveals Tarzan's impossibly bad taste in women.


DMoore said...

Hey, good show, but one note about your comment about "Lola" at the end of the show: It may be a transgender song. The lyric "I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola," can be read two ways, only one of which says Lola is a man. Cheers.

Kenneth Dowst said...

Excellent point, DMoore. I have a few nagging doubts myself, and you've certainly put your figure on the key ambiguous line!

I'm still inclining towards the gender-bender interpretation. There's also (from memory): Now, I'm not dumb, but I can't understand / Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man."

But you're right: it's less than certain.

Thanks for writing & for the kind words. Hope to hear from you again.