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Month: May 2014

A tagline is forever

A tagline is forever

A few weeks ago I told the story of Tiffany’s blue box, so it only seems sensible to tell the story of how so many of the rings inside those boxes came to include a diamond

A tagline is forever

In the 1930s, presenting a woman with a diamond engagement ring when proposing was not the social norm it is nowadays and the Depression had made matters even worse for De Beers, the brand which controlled 60% of rough diamond output. 

De Beers decided to embark on what they now describe as a “substantial” campaign, linking diamonds with engagement. They hired Philadelphia based dvertising agency N.W. Ayer in 1938 to try and make Americans fall in love with diamond engagement rings. 

At the time only 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds and they were seen as an extravagance for the wealthy. Sales, already declining for more than two decades, had plummeted during the Great Depression. 

The challenge Ayer faced wasn’t easy and as internal Ayer documents later observed the campaign required “the conception of a new form of advertising, which has been widely imitated ever since. There was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea — the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond.”

The new campaign was to weave together two strands

The first strand was to suggest a diamond’s worth and manage expectations as to what to a man should pay for a diamond by proposing, at least in the 1930s and 40s, that it should be equivalent to a single month’s salary (A figure that would obviously go up with inflation but which has also been increased to two months in the 1970s and 80s and more recently has become three months’ salary)

The second strand happened in 1947 when at a routine morning meeting, Frances Gerety, a young copywriter, suggested a new tagline. Her colleagues weren’t particularly impressed. The all-male group felt it didn’t mean anything and that it wasn’t even grammatically correct.

Gerety who had been working on the De Beers account since 1942, had often explored ideas of eternity and sentiment. Her previous ads which had appeared in publications like Vogue, Life, Collier’s, Harper’s Bazaar and the Saturday Evening Post had suggested things like “May your happiness last as long as your diamond.” or “Wear your diamonds as the night wears its stars, ever and always . . . for their beauty is as timeless.”

Her new line “A Diamond is Forever” was the summation of her thinking and was the turning point in the campaign.


Despite those early misgivings “A Diamond Is Forever” first appeared in a 1948 ad and has appeared in every De Beers engagement advertisement since then. 

By 1951, Ayer was seeing success and informed De Beers that “jewellers now tell us ‘a girl is not engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring.’ ” 

In 1956, Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel, “Diamonds Are Forever,” the fourth in the James Bond series was published and subsequently turned into a film with a memorable theme tune of the same name sung by Shirley Bassey.

 In 1999, Advertising Age proclaimed it the slogan of the century: “Before the DeBeers mining syndicate informed us ‘A Diamond Is Forever,’ associating itself with eternal romance, the diamond solitaire as the standard token of betrothal did not exist,” the magazine explained. “Now, thanks to the simple audacity of the advertising proposition, the diamond engagement ring is de rigueur virtually worldwide, and the diamond by far the precious gemstone of choice.”

By the end of the 20th Century, 80% of engagement rings contained diamonds because, as all husbands know, she’s worth it.


An uncomfortable vision – The story of Spedan Lewis

An uncomfortable vision – The story of Spedan Lewis

John Lewis – the store loved by middle England and the marketing media is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the opening of John Lewis’ first drapery store on Oxford Street. However for me the man who merits more of the attention is his son Spedan Lewis.

An uncomfortable vision

Every spring in every John Lewis store, every partner, as employees are known, stops and gathers on the shop floor, in the office or in the warehouse. They watch one of their colleagues open an envelope. On a single sheet is printed a number. That number represents the percentage of their salary that each and every of them will receive as an annual bonus. Not surprisingly the event is nearly always greeted with a cheer.

This practice of equally sharing a proportion of the firm’s profits can be traced back, not quite to John Lewis, but to Spedan Lewis, his oldest son.

John Lewis was born in Somerset, England and became an orphan at the age of seven. He was subsequently brought up by an aunt, Miss Ann Speed. In 1864 he opened a small drapery shop, John Lewis & Co., at 132 Oxford Street in London. It flourished so John expanded, and the premises were rebuilt in the 1880s to form an all-encompassing department store

Now married John’s first son was born in 1885 and was named in honour of his aunt – Spedan. (It is the year the picture of Oxford Street was taken)

At 19, Spedan went to work with in the store and on his 21st birthday his father gave him a quarter-share of the business.

It was then that Spedan realised that he, his father and his younger brother Oswald earned more from the business than all of the other employees put together. It was something that made him feel very uncomfortable.


In 1909, Spedan had a serious horse-riding accident which meant he would not work again for nearly two years. However during the time he spent recuperating he clearly brooded on the inequality of the situation and developed a plan to revolutionize the business. His vision was for a business where success should be measured “By the happiness of those working at it and by its good service to the general community”

When he finally returned to work and now running his father’s second store, Peter Jones, in Sloane Square he started to turn his vision into reality. He shortened the working day, started a work committee and increased paid holiday time. He wanted work to be “something to live for as well as something to live by”. While his ideas are said to have caused a rift with his father, they appeared to work as profits increased.

After the death of his father in 1928, Spedan assuming control of the Oxford Street store too and in 1929 officially formed the John Lewis Partnership, and began the distribution of profits among its employees

He completed the move towards employee-ownership in 1950, with the transfer of control for the whole business to the employees.

Spedan Lewis resigned as chairman in 1955 but the legacy of his vision lives on. 


The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest

The story of how the nickname of a 12th century Welsh Lord, of French origins, was chosen for an English cider starts with an invasion. It is also the tale of a journey from an arrow in the eye to two arrows thudding into a bar.

In 1066 William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion of England. William was a ‘contender’ for the throne of England as he was the first cousin once removed of the childless King Edward the Confessor. To pursue his claim he built a large fleet and invaded England in September 1066, decisively defeating and killing another contender, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October.

After a number of other smaller battles, William was crowned king on Christmas Day, in London.  

In the following years, the Normans introduced many changes and the drinking of cider was one of them. The popularity of cider grew steadily; new varieties of apples were introduced, and cider began to figure in the tax records. By 1300, there are references to cider production in the counties now known as Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Kent, Norfolk, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex. 

Cider was soon produced on just about any farm that had a few cider apple trees and by the 18th century it was customary to pay part of a farm labourer’s wage in cider.  A typical allowance would be 3 – 4 pints per day.

However, in the post-industrial 20th century, cider, while still widely drunk, had become somewhat negatively associated with “yokels” (poorly educated and unsophisticated people from the countryside) and as a drink for the very young and ‘the ladies’. The latter was a result of the fact that many ciders were sweeter than beers and lagers and so were perceived to be more accessible to the young and women) 


So when, nearly 100 years after that Norman invasion, H.P Bulmer developed a new dry cider that would be marketed as “the strong cider for men”, they wanted a name that would reinforce this masculine positioning and help provide a back story for what was going to be a new brand in an old category.

Their researches led them to Richard de Clare (1130 – 1176) a Cambro-Norman lord, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster and Justiciar of Ireland. He was famous for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland and had gained the nickname “Strongbow” for his reliance on Welsh archers during those campaigns.

The brand became Strongbow. 

The original Norman archer logo that went with the new name was designed by artist Barney Bubbles. Barney Bubbles (born Colin Fulcher) was a radical English artist whose work encompassed graphic design and music video direction. He is in fact best known for his later association with the British independent music scene of the 1970s and 1980s and artists such as Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Elvis Costello and The Damned. His record sleeves for them are amongst his most recognisable output, though in reality possibly more people saw and would recognise his work for Strongbow and Bulmers.

The strong masculine imagery was then further reinforced in the brands’s advertising when, towards the end of the ads, two arrows would thud into a bar counter near a glass of glistening Strongbow cider.

Cider has come a long way since an arrow in the eye killed Harold! Strongbow is now the largest cider brand in the world.


The same but different

The same but different

I was recently asked if the stories on this blog are the ones in The Prisoner and the Penguin. The answer for the vast majority is NO. The stories here are in the same style but are new ones I’ve researched and written for a possible second book. Unfortunately for you, if you want to read the original stories you will just have to buy the book


George Orwell and the geography teacher

George Orwell and the geography teacher

“The Moon Under Water” is an essay by George Orwell. It was originally published as the Saturday Essay in the Evening Standard on 9 February 1946. In it George Orwell provided a detailed description of what his ideal public house, the fictitious Moon Under Water, would be like.

Among others, the article was to inspire a young Tim Martin, who read it some thirty years later.

Timothy Randall Martin had been born on 28 April 1955, in Northern Ireland. He was educated at eleven different schools in Northern Ireland and New Zealand including Campbell College in Belfast. Despite being told by one teacher in New Zealand that he would never amount to much, Tim went onto study law at the University of Nottingham.

Unfortunately a fear of public speaking made Tim abandon his plans for a career as a barrister and he decided instead to move into the hospitality business. He bought Marleys, a pub he had frequented as a law student in Muswell Hill, north London.

As his website puts it “he swapped his legal bar for one of his own”

Using Orwell’s blueprint he created a pub that was free of music so that the customers could talk easily, sold cheap and nutritious food, served its draught beer in pewter and glass tankards; at reasonable prices, and was a place where the barmaids should get to know customers by name and be genuinely interested in them.

When it came to naming the pub Martin originally changed Marleys to the somewhat obvious Martin’s, but later changed it Moon Under Water in homage to Orwell.

The business was successful and soon expanded. Martin now needed a name for a chain.

That new name J.D. Wetherspoons is taken from two different sources one cultural though maybe not as highbrow as George Orwell and one for Martin’s past.

The J.D. is the cultural reference. It is taken from the 1980s US TV series The Dukes of Hazzard and the character Sheriff J.D. (‘Boss’) Hogg

For the second part Tim went back to his schooldays and the teacher who had predicted such a limited future for his business career. Mr. Wetherspoon was in fact the name of the geography teacher than Martin had encountered at a New Zealand school, who told him that he would never amount to anything in business

Now a multi-millionaire it probably still brings a smile to Martin’s face every time he sees one of his pubs or hears someone talking about the successful chain that is Wetherspoons.

I’m sure Martin will have raised many a glass in his ‘honour’ which probably just makes it even worse because Mr. Wetherspoon is a teetotaller.