Shendah Van Kreuningen
July 16th, 2019
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“How can you make two months’ salary last forever?” DeBeers
“People will stare. Make it worth their while.” Harry Winston
“There is only one true love.” Tiffany & Co.

I knew I was getting engaged before it actually happened. That’s a pretty common scenario it seems. But what’s unique is the story of how I got engaged. One time I thought the proposal was going to take place after a cozy motorbike ride to the top of a mountain. It didn’t happen. Then I thought it was going to occur at the beach with the sunset as our backdrop. Negative to that too. And then I was certain it was going to come about in my apartment as we popped a very special wine from Napa Valley where we once visited. Nope. Then, finally, to my surprise, he proposed.

It was Christmas holidays and we were staying at my parent’s house. There was already a blanket of snow outside but it had started snowing again. I asked my love to go for a walk down to the field at the end of the street but upon making it there, I was so cold, I decided to bolt home. My love came running after me, the diamond engagement ring jingling around in his pocket. His plan, I later found out, was to ask my hand in marriage on the field draped in twinkling ice lights. Instead, I was back at my parent’s front lawn and his plan had to adapt to a new landscape. Before I knew it, my love was proposing with a one-of-a-kind filigree ring with luminous diamonds sprinkled all over it. The silver ring is like a snowflake – it’s one of a kind. When we did tie the knot, the intricate edges of the engagement ring fit precisely with my wedding band. It’s a symbol of our undying love. And when I returned to my apartment, my girlfriends came running through the snow to stand at my door and gaze down at my diamond ring. It was confirmed – I had the diamond, I was truly loved and I was getting married.

And yet, on closer inspection, my story is only matchless to a point.

Because this engineered hallmark of betrothal is merely part of an unsurpassed marketing campaign that began almost 150 years ago.

Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

In 1870, after massive diamond mines were unearthed in South Africa, British venture capitalists privy to the discovery saw an opportunity to profit but were concerned the diamond market would be flooded. They had to find a way to regulate both supply and demand. So, they took action: they formed DeBeers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. and then they hired ad agency N.W. Ayer.

Meanwhile, the general public didn’t really care about diamonds because they weren’t essentially worth anything. To complicate things further, it was the Great Depression and the economy was in the dumps. N.W. Ayer needed to think outside of the box.  How does one make something fundamentally useless into something of highest value? And how does one discourage people from reselling them? They created a story about a diamond with a new face.

To personify this idea, N.W. Ayer gifted and loaned diamond jewellery to famous people, while their publicists strategically wove narratives about romantic celebrity engagements with diamond rings as the focal point. Fashion designers strengthened the popularity train by chatting about the trend on the radio. Even the British royal family did their part to help the industry by making public appearances at the diamond mines.          

The diamond was reinvented: from tiny crystals of carbon into the symbol of forever love. To accentuate this idea even further N.W. Ayer stamped the DeBeers masterpiece with the slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” The ad agency had successfully embodied diamonds with cultural value. N.W. Ayer had gotten it right. They knew exactly what they were selling and why people would buy it. N.W. Ayer had focused on the buyer and user first and not some rousing art concept.

The diamond ring is now a necessary part of getting married. And if that isn’t astonishing enough, N.W. Ayer crafted a successful campaign to dictate how much a man should pay.   

The lesson here is that effective marketing is about highlighting a relationship and not the product itself. In other words, fruitful promotion demands why we buy and not just what.

DeBeers story is amusing but the question remains: if a flourishing brand depends on thinking outside of the box, how exactly do you do that? Isn’t it easier to just jump on the trends? And who wants to be the black sheep? Isn’t there safety in numbers?

If you want to be an innovator and a leader than complacency will actually squash you. Ineffective approaches to problem solving and strategizing involve too much planning and not enough time dedicated to reflection and originality. It’s more than just being on top of the trends – you need to be ahead of them.

Thinking outside of the box means confronting problems by challenging the norms with creative and free thinking. Defying the status quo in this way is not improvised – it is deliberate and constructive.

But how do you transition from being inside the box to a place of originality?

Break on Through to the Other Side

One way is to play the devil’s advocate. Pretend you’re the competition and imagine what weakness of yours they might target. Ask yourself why you do certain things and what if you did them a different way, how would that look?

Another method of exploration strangely enough is to ask a child for their opinion. Children have such unstructured ways of looking at the world they may just give you a spark to work with.

Thinking outside of the box could actually mean going back to the beginning and starting from scratch. And while you’re at it, give your logical left side of the brain a nap and try freewriting, drawing pictures or creating mind maps as a way of liberating your imaginative wing.

You should also make it a practise to read about other industries because you may spot some changes that will influence yours in some way. 

In recent years, companies have stepped outside of the box by offering personalized products, promoting selfie campaigns, sending out thank you cards or organizing customer appreciation events, recommending loyalty cards and submitting content with input from industry thought leaders.

It definitely takes courage to break free from routine and face problems and opportunities with an open mind. N.W. Ayer found the guts to do just that. They boxed and sold a feeling and they hooked us all. 

For Kihada, stories like N.W. Ayer’s are a source of inspiration. Kihada dares to be different too. For us, thinking outside of the box means pushing the boundaries with ideas that deliver the strategy in an innovative way. To do this, Kihada strives to be an agency that truly gets their clients and their four confining walls before stepping outside and looking at a new point of view. At Kihada, finding fresh ways to punch out the edges of the box is nothing extraordinary – it’s just what we do.

Now get out there and slay it.

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