What editorial content can do for brands like Natural Diamond Council that ads and promotional exercises can't

In this week's in-depth analysis of an editorial site of Natural Diamond Council, Hamsini Shivakumar, Founder, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, writes how their website, as branded content, has been able to do what a marketing campaign, a series of advertisements or a promotional exercise couldn't have achieved — the ability to direct and shape the diamond semiosphere

Hamsini Shivakumar
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We recently found a key principle of marketing semiotics emphasised through the customer-facing editorial site of the Natural Diamond Council (originally the Diamond Producers Association). The principle: Every product forms part of a larger cultural context and, therefore, must effectively interact with it to find relevance in consumers’ lives.

Labelled ‘Only Natural Diamonds’ (OND), the website is an integrated marketing effort of seven players in the natural diamonds industry and is set up to act as the go-to destination for any diamond-related query, story and recommendation.

The wide range of frequently updated content signals that the diamond isn’t just a rock that exists in those rare and isolated moments when it embellishes you for a special occasion. But that it has lived a rich life, from when it was mythologised as comprising Lord Indra’s celestial weapon to the solitaire that was Umrao Jaan’s nose stud. And that it continues to find its place in everyday, modern living; both in the lives of celebrities and those simply looking to make their day brighter.

But does the already coveted diamond need any more storytelling and myth-making through such extensive branded content? Ever since the lab-made variety began posing a serious threat to it — yes.

Through a cheaper cost of production and the promise of greater sustainability, the lab-made diamond industry has challenged its natural counterpart for the price it demands from consumers, both monetary and environmental. The former especially appeals to millennials and Gen Z who are happier buying better priced, conflict-free diamonds that are less weighed down by heritage and mystique.

Worried that an oversupply from the lab-made sector will disrupt the value of the natural diamond, brands have started fighting back in all the ways they believe will help. For instance, De Beers, foremost in the natural diamonds’ category, has launched its own line of lab-made diamonds, priced even cheaper than those in the market — to create a perceptual ladder that reinforces the difference between the two kinds and to drive the narrative.

Through similar thinking comes the OND website. How exactly is this sustained marketing exercise designed to convince consumers, especially the younger generation, about investing in natural diamonds?

Addressing the non-practical reasons for why people buy and why they don’t

How do you convince consumers to buy natural diamonds that are priced higher than the lab-made ones when both are real and look exactly the same, and the differences can only be found by experts with specialised equipment? As surprising as it may sound, you emphasise on their uniqueness.

You don’t directly talk about how there is nothing special about a diamond produced by a lab within a few weeks. Or try to counter with the mystique of a diamond formed within the earth over a billion years. No, you take a more subtle route by forming desirable cultural associations with both — these are bound to be absorbed more subconsciously and with lesser debate. As OND has done.

The video within the website’s landing frame presents a natural diamonds collection positioned to accompany “moments like no other”; an articulation that indirectly contrasts with the aforementioned lab-made collection from De Beers (a founding member of Natural Diamond Council) called Lightbox, which is “marketed as sparkly, pink, blue or white fashion accessories that are neither as rare nor precious as real gem.”

Laid out like this, the distinction between the two emerges clearly: natural diamonds equal serious and long-term investment for life’s more important moments and the consumption of lab-made diamonds is similar to any other fashion purchase you make.

Aside from underlining how natural diamond jewellery differs in its appeal, OND is also looking to generate preference through trust. A portion of their content is created to educate the site visitor about natural diamonds — the checks it must pass or whether an uncut diamond is a worthy investment.

The platform has also kept considerable focus on sustainability, a primary concern surrounding diamonds that are mined. They have taken the relevant pledges, created videos that share how employees are thriving in the responsibly set up business and published thorough pieces that explain how the industry has made itself conflict free:


By exposing their audience to technicalities usually reserved for experts and making details about their functioning openly accessible, OND has worked to create an aura of transparency and reliability.

Representing the audience targeted by the marketing exercise

The content of the landing page video marks a departure from the purely aspirational and event-led understanding of diamonds that was popularly found in Indian ads till about three years back. Where the acquisition of diamonds meant briefly belonging to a better life or undergoing an experience that transcended the wearer’s plane of reality.

Examples: The 2017 Tanishq ad with Deepika Padukone, who chooses to retain some pieces of jewellery from her Padmaavat get-up to continue feeling grand like a queen:

Or, this Nakshatra ad from 2017 that finds Kangana Ranaut descending into a trance after putting on the jewellery, as musical tones suggesting a primal desire for consumption play in the background:

In contrast, the actress featured in OND’s landing page video, Ana de Armas is shown belonging to a better life but her experience of it never ceases because her diamonds meaningfully accompany her through it instead of acting as a superior presence she gives in from time to time. She wears them when spending time with her partner, her close friend, her family members and while enjoying herself.

They seem to have taken this approach to appeal to the younger, social media-lead generation that prefers to orchestrate life such that it runs as a never-ending series of memorable moments, rather than live a life punctuated by obvious milestones that are exceptional in being high notes:


Reinforcing the cultural relevance of the product

OND’s core idea to not freeze natural diamonds within infrequent pockets of time and make their consumption more fluid and comprehensive rightly extends to the selection of content offered on the site. Their write-ups encompass all cultural spaces that natural diamonds can possibly occupy — the increased number of virtual meetings where the natural diamond can contribute to a positive self-image and ensure the wearer looks good on camera, occasions in pop culture that feature natural diamonds, gifting guides for every occasion and stories from runway models.

Not only does this effort generate wider cultural significance but it also appeals to younger generations who are frequently looking to inject their possessions and experiences with greater meaning. Pieces such as “Small Treasures: The History and Legacy of the Nose Pin” and “Diamonds: The Rock of Gods” take the natural diamond from being a pretty stone used to accessorise to being a repository of culture.

What an editorial site means for brands such as the Natural Diamond Council

What should be your key takeaway from this study of OND? Certainly not the details of the cultural angles they have taken to discussing natural diamonds. But how their website, as branded content, has been able to do what a marketing campaign, a series of advertisements or a promotional exercise couldn't have achieved — the ability to direct and shape the diamond semiosphere.

Very briefly; Semiotics understands a 'semiosphere' as the symbolic manifestation of any culture, where all signs and their meanings are interconnected and determined by each other. Anyone who interacts with a culture can contribute to its semiosphere. So, with the diamond semiosphere, any seller of natural or lab-made diamonds and any consumer can influence the collective understanding of what the different products connote. Thereby, also influencing what people do and do not buy.

A conventional marketing or promotional effort, with a fixed starting and end point, is finite and almost limited — both in the period it communicates with consumers and the ideas it is able to highlight. Therefore, what it contributes to the semiosphere is one-off and participatory.

On the other hand, a website that is a repository for a continually growing body of branded content gives the brand a multi-faceted and dynamic characteristic. This means the chance to cover the entire consumer base by addressing all the possible reasons that can attract them to the product, and do this on an on-going basis. The chance to utilise all the different formats when dialoguing with the brand's audience. And finally, the chance to position the product as such a powerful cultural symbol that it needs a go-to place of its own.

In short, acting as a force that creates culture rather than only participating in it, and, thereby, turning into one of the bigger influences on the semiosphere. Which is exactly what the Natural Diamond Council needs to win the battle on behalf of natural diamonds.

Natural Diamond Council