Did you know it was a woman who wrote “A Diamond Is Forever,” the phrase honored in 1999 by Advertising Age as the ad slogan of the century? Yes, Frances Gerety, a pioneering, mid-20th century copywriter, penned the famous saying, after she was assigned to the De Beers diamond account at her ad agency, N.W. Ayer. I thought in honor of Women’s History Month, I’d share her story.Gerety surely had a tough road to walk as a woman in the very male advertising world of the time. If you watched the television series “Mad Men” – you can get some idea of the way women were treated. Yet she looks like an extremely self-assured person in the photo I share here – her elegant suit, strand of pearls, and carefully coiffed hair bespeak a dignity that I’m sure helped her navigate that world.
Gerety got her big chance when De Beers asked her agency, at the end of the Great Depression and World War II, to build demand for diamonds again. During the hard times of the 1930s and early 1940s, diamonds were very low on the list of things that most people had time (or money) to think about. But after the war, a whole generation of soldiers was returning home and planning to marry – and De Beers knew the moment was right to remind them about the tradition of the diamond engagement ring.
In the ad agencies of that era, women copywriters were hired exclusively to write about products for women, and that’s how Gerety landed the De Beers assignment.
The story goes that after spending an arduous day on the De Beers account, the conscientious writer was about to tumble into bed when she realized that she hadn’t devised a tag line. Gerety prayed to her Muses: “please send me a line.” And out came “a diamond is forever,” which she scribbled down on a slip of paper. And the rest is history.
By the early 1950s, sales of diamonds had increased 55% and news accounts of the time noted that a woman didn’t feel she was engaged until she received a diamond engagement ring.
Gerety would remain the De Beers ad copywriter for 25 years. During the early years of the ads, she went for a fine art approach to describing love and commitment. With significant resources from De Beers, she ended up using artwork from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali (a Dali ad is shown here)!
In the mid-1960s as the women’s movement was getting underway, Gerety was also credited with the first ad campaign that encouraged women to buy diamonds for themselves – regardless of their marital status. Gerety herself had never married, sticking to her brilliant career.
Though the great copywriter retired in the 1970s, she was honored by De Beers in late 1980s for her work on the account. Gerety died in 1999, just two weeks after Advertising Age named her slogan the century’s best. I’m glad she lived to receive that great honor. Here’s to women – may their accomplishments go on … forever.