Three Little Words that Come From the Heart
Something remarkable happens when you say to yourself, "I Am Loved." And the feeling is infinitely more extraordinary when the sentiment comes from someone else. It’s no surprise that Barnett Helzberg Jr.’s idea for a button, printed with these three words, has been so genuinely meaningful to so many people. I AM LOVED® was an overnight phenomenon that is still popular more than 40 years later. What is surprising is that when Barnett first scribbled down his idea, it was a sentiment so personal and heartfelt that he almost didn’t show it to anyone… it was only by chance that the little button became the icon that it is today.
I AM LOVED® was conceived in 1967 by Barnett Helzberg Jr., the thirty-something, third generation president of Kansas City-based Helzberg Diamonds. A young lady named Shirley Bush had just accepted Barnett’s marriage proposal. To know she said yes…to know he was loved… Barnett was ecstatic! He wanted to tell the world!
In his euphoria, he came up with an advertising concept capitalizing on the wonderful feeling of knowing someone loves you. He drew a lapel button with the words “I Am Loved” and wrote some ad copy that encouraged other guys to either buy their girls a diamond—or give them a button—but be sure to do something to "tell her she’s loved."
After noodle-ing the idea, Barnett decided it was embarrassing, wadded up the sketch and threw it away. But the next morning he impulsively fished the drawing out of the wastebasket to show to the company’s advertising artist. The artist liked the concept and came up with the button design almost immediately!
The company took Barnett’s button idea and scheduled I AM LOVED® as the in-store promotion theme for November 1967. The I AM LOVED® campaign was announced in a newspaper ad in The Kansas City Star. Introductory advertising used a soft-sell approach: “The age-old problem hasn’t changed. She still wants to know you love her. And you still wonder how to tell her.” Helzberg initially ordered 50,000 buttons, but the supply was exhausted almost immediately. Public demand was insatiable! The company placed emergency rush orders to meet the button requests.
Within weeks, I AM LOVED® became a national movement that put Helzberg Diamonds on the map. It seemed everybody, everywhere, wanted buttons. Helzberg obliged all requests for buttons at no charge, whether the request came from a community where Helzberg had a store or not— and many did not. The buttons spread across the country with amazing speed. An article by the New York Associated Press reported, “The latest craze is to show your affection by sending your heros I AM LOVED® buttons. Among the notables receiving buttons were President Lyndon B. Johnson, Frank Sinatra, Joe Namath, Jose Ferrar and Sammy Davis, Jr.” I AM LOVED® buttons quickly made their way to loved ones in Vietnam, as well. In fact, at Christmas time, Helzberg offered to send a postcard with a button, to any serviceman, free of charge.
The buttons were also immediately popular with religious groups delivering messages of love. Schools used the buttons to encourage students and build self-esteem. It wasn’t long before I AM LOVED® spread around the world and Helzberg responded by producing buttons in French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Italian, German, Hebrew, Chinese and Portuguese. Warming the hearts of sick children or far away soldiers made the I AM LOVED® campaign more than a jewelry store promotion—even more than a marketing phenomenon. I AM LOVED® became an icon…a timeless expresvsion of love…three little words straight from the heart. Since 1967, all requests for buttons have been fulfilled as a global community service and I AM LOVED® buttons are still free. Over 50 million buttons have been given away.