A slogan is forever: How one woman changed the world with four words

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Before the 1940s, diamonds were a luxury for the richest of the rich. Expecting a diamond during a proposal was like hoping your boyfriend would surprise you with a private plane. Men expressed their undying love with more practical items like cars and washing machines.

Mary Frances Gerety changed all that. For better or worse, a man today who can’t or won’t buy his fiance a diamond has some explaining to do.

Ironically, one of the only things we know about the woman who turned marriage proposals on their head is that she never got married. We know Frances was a career woman. After going to college to study Advertising and Journalism, she headed straight into copywriting.

De Beers, a giant in the diamond industry, hired Frances’ agency to save their declining sales after the Great Depression. Since diamonds were a “woman’s” market, Frances and her PR counterpart (also a single lady!) were assigned to the case. They knew the precious stone needed a rebrand, and they knew exactly what that brand would be. So they set out on a mission “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”

The day before presenting her ad campaign to De Beers, Frances, then 32 years old, was about to fall asleep after a long day. But she had forgotten to write the slogan at the center of her presentation! After a short prayer, she wrote “a diamond is forever” on a scrap of paper and left it on her bedside.

At first, Frances thought the phrase was only “OK.” Her clients were ambivalent too. After all, the grammar was a bit strange. Yet the slogan has been used in every De Beers ad since. In 1999, Advertising Age named it “the slogan of the century.”