linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!
 
 
 
 

 

  Is De Beers forever?   Is De Beers forever?  Ron Irwin  
         
 
Is De Beers forever? In May of 2004, former supermodel Iman parted ways with the two-year-old luxury retail brand De Beers LV. This might not seem unusual but Iman once referred to herself as “not a model but an icon and inspiration” in regard to her work with the high-end diamond retailer. What happened to cause De Beers not to be forever?

In 2002, De Beers LV, the namesake of the famous South African mining corporation, pledged to put a hundred million dollars into a retail chain that would see the establishment of 100 stores throughout the world by 2012. Iman’s famous image had been significantly attached to this massive initiative.

 
She claimed in 2002 that she chose to work with De Beers LV after seeing the company’s hi-tech mining productions in South Africa and “speaking to Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.” Like most high profile break-ups, this one is fraught with miscommunication, innuendo, and a disruptive third party that ended the two-year honeymoon between the legendary gem giant and the Somali-born beauty.

That third party is an activist group called Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. Shortly after De Beers’s May 2002 announcement of its union upon the famed catwalks of Cannes, Survival informed Iman that, in its opinion, De Beers was partly to blame for the relocation of the Gana and Gwi people (often referred to as bushmen in southern Africa) from their native land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. According to Survival, this forced relocation is happening because De Beers’s joint mining operations with the Botswana government require it. Soon after, Survival embarked on a campaign to break up the relationship between Iman and De Beers. In August of 2002, Women’s Wear Daily reported that Iman was “frantically educating herself” about the issue of bushmen rights.

 

Things came to a head just before the opening of the De Beers LV flagship store in London’s Old Bond Street on October 30, 2002. The opening itself had to be postponed due to a lack of diamonds, and, embarrassingly, because activists professionally altered the billboard outside the store by plastering Iman’s face with that of a bushman and replacing the De Beers slogan “A diamond is forever” with a new one in De Beers’ elegant typography that read, “The bushmen aren’t forever.”

Fiona Watson, a representative of Survival International, is cagey about who exactly was responsible for this defacement but the company gleefully posted pictures and a story about it the next day on its website; most news agencies that covered the story lay credit for the episode at Survival’s doors. At the party soon after the Bond street store inauguration, Iman, whose famous visage had been changed from an icon of diamond-studded hope for the sub-continent into a symbol of human deprivation, was conspicuously absent.

The story illustrates the tenuous links between celebrities, high profile brands and low profile causes. More importantly, it illustrates the new challenge that activism poses to the brand manager. Activist groups interested in injustices ranging from environmental destruction to child labor have learned that they gain far more exposure for their efforts by linking them to famous brands than by simply spreading the word themselves.

Brands like Nike, Coke and McDonald’s find themselves embroiled in non-business related controversies that have, at times, garnered more attention from consumers than the company’s own brand initiatives. Some brands, like Ben & Jerry’s and Avon (which, respectively, are involved in save the rainforest work and the fight against breast cancer) have linked themselves to causes successfully and benefited from the association. Those who have been linked to causes against their will, however, often face disaster.

De Beers has denied, time and again, having anything to do with the forced removals of the bushmen in Botswana. In an interview with brandchannel, international marketing director for De Beers LV Jean-Christophe Gandon starts out by reiterating, as he had in a De Beers LV press release posted on the company website, that the company simply decided not to renew Iman’s contract when it came to an end because it “did not want to be limited by using one face” in association with the brand.

Survival, Gandon claims, “jumped on the opportunity to claim victory” when the contract between the two ended, where as the reality was much more mundane. “The contract between an icon and a brand is usually only for a limited period of time,” he says, and it seems Iman’s time had come.

Gandon indicates that in De Beers LV, Survival had found the perfect brand to promote a “very worthy” cause. “But the issue about the Bushmen in Botswana has nothing to do with De Beers selling jewelry. It is about a situation between the government of Botswana and the local population, and it’s not our duty to get involved in such a situation.” He further pointed out that he feels “people who understand the issue,” as well as loyal De Beers LV customers, understand De Beers has nothing to do with [forced removals].”

Gandon further says “Survival used De Beers because it makes their case more sexy. From a marketing point of view, Survival understood that trying to draw attention to De Beers made their cause more interesting to people.”

According to De Beers LV, as a retail subsidiary of the De Beers’ mining operations, there is not a lot it can do to affect change. “When it comes to the reputation of De Beers as far as issues like conflict diamonds and the removal of the bushmen, it becomes a matter of concern of the De Beers Corporation,” says Gandon. “We are not involved in mining. We are retailers who buy diamonds from the market with the guarantee they come from the right sources.

“We are ourselves,” says Gandon distancing his brand from De Beers at large, “and we know we conduct business in the right way: with integrity and respect for others. If we get drawn into an argument with Survival International we have to explain our position in regard to the structure of the De Beers companies and reiterate that the issue has nothing to do with us. Instead, we believe companies have to communicate what they do well to be less of a target for rumors. De Beers is about quality and expertise, and at the end of the day that is stronger than any false claim by a third party.”

Stephen Correy, Director of Survival International, begs to differ. By email, he writes, “We remain convinced that diamonds are the root cause of the evictions,” and refers to a paper on the subject entitled “Bushmen aren’t forever” posted on the Survival website.

According to Correy, the managing director of De Beers mining operations in Botswana informed Survival, it “would not support the concept of indigenous rights in Africa…. [De Beers] now appear to be rapidly backtracking from that position (which would also be a success for the campaign, if true).” Clarifying De Beers LV’s role in the fracas, Correy says, “We limit our concern solely to the role diamonds have played in the violation of bushman rights. We are not opposed to diamonds or diamond mining.”

Correy added that Survival International had targeted “dozens of companies,” in their efforts on behalf of indigenous peoples. And here lies the rub. The people whom Survival fights on behalf of—tribes such as the Mboboro in West Africa, the Amungme in Papua, Indonesia, and the Khanty in Siberia—are faceless to most of the Western world. The brands that the organization targets, however, are extremely high profile, and by making the association between them and the worldwide travails of marginalized tribal groups, Survival makes its cause known worldwide.

Brand managers probably read about the damage to the De Beers billboards and shuddered, but Gandon himself was philosophical about the alteration of his Old Bond Street billboard, which made the newspapers across the world. “It’s very hard to say [if the activism has done harm to the brand]. This type of thing is hard to measure.” Yet, it seems, at least at first blush, that activism against a brand on behalf a good cause, be it the rights of a downtrodden people or a virgin rainforest, must do damage to the brand.

Kalle Lasn is founder and self-proclaimed “creative mastermind” behind Adbusters.org, a notorious online resource for anti-branding efforts on the part of political activists and a group Lasn refers to as “mental environmentalists”: people who are tired of the amount of brand imagery they are confronted with on a daily basis and who are prepared to do something about it. Made famous by Naomi Klein in her best-selling anti-brand book No Logo, the “jams” within Adbusters’ pages attack well-known brands ranging from McDonald’s to Coke to Ralph Lauren. Yet Lasn admits that he had personally spent “years in the ad game,” and thus knows branding from the point of view of an insider. His main efforts are now centered around promoting exactly the same kind of brand activism that Survival appears to have spearheaded against De Beers.

Lasn says that the “billboard liberation” of De Beers on Old Bond Street represents “the lowest form of culture jamming,” mainly because it only reaches a “few thousand people.”

“It’s the most ineffective kind of activism because it’s not much good to either side,” he says. “By and large it’s just not much for anyone to worry about.” In fact, Lasn points out, “some managers actually like it. Their brand is actually enhanced by jammers’ paying attention to it, and it gives them a kind of ‘rebel edge.’ ”

The liberation of the De Beers billboard, according to Lasn, is indicative of “the never-ending cat and mouse game [between activists and branders] that has gone on for years.”

The real activism against brands, from Lasn’s perspective, are activities designed to discourage stars like Iman to “sell their souls” to big brands. “My mission,” he says, “is to make it increasingly uncool for celebrities to sell themselves to these corporations.”

As far as Iman is concerned, Lasn says, “She was fighting for the wrong side. Increasingly, political radicals have more and more celebrities coming out of the woodwork to support them.” He hopes that anti-branding efforts worldwide as well as celebrities supporting good causes outright will make it harder for an icon like Iman to become the face of a major brand like De Beers for “just a few million dollars.”

“By doing this, people will see they are being inauthentic prostitutes for the ad industry.” Lasn says, adding a final warning aimed at brandchannel readers: “Tell them this: we’re coming after you, watch out!”

Iman herself did not answer emails requesting an interview during the researching of this story. She has been thrust into the center of what seems to be the changing, and very risky business of branding, where being the public face of a major brand makes you just as susceptible to the company’s enemies as the company itself. Survival claims that her final words on the subject came in an April 2004 interview with the British based magazine Radio Times when she reportedly said, “It was clear that the Bushmen were being destroyed—you take people from their element and you end up with AIDs, drugs and alcohol in the guise of advancement.”    

[22-Nov-2004]

 
  
  

Ron Irwin lectures at the University of Cape Town School of Management Studies in South Africa.

     
 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 23 )  email

  brandchannel home archive   2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  | 2004  |  2003  |  2002  |  2001
 
 
Dec 20, 2004 Does Your Brand Register Abroad? -- Sergio Beristain
  The trials of naming hinge as much on translation and TM registration as being clever.
   
 
Dec 13, 2004 Does Royalty Lead to Brand Loyalty? -- Emilie Boyer King
  The ultimate celebrity endorsement comes from royal warrants. And you don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for them.
   
 
Dec 6, 2004 Design Shifts Drive Auto Brands -- Dale Buss
  Designers move back into the driver’s seat in automotive manufacturing.
   
 
Nov 29, 2004 Small Step for Man, Giant Leap for Brandkind -- Alycia de Mesa
  Brands shoot for the stars as the space race heats up. Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, and others hope you’ll book a flight with them.
   
 
Nov 15, 2004 Branding on a First Name Basis -- Erwin Wijman
  Naming trends: As businesses become less personal, they adopt first names to convey friendliness in the brand.
   
 
Nov 8, 2004 Perrier: Nestled in Controversy? -- Joe Ray
  Perrier finds that water runs thicker than French blood as it battles with Swiss-based Nestlé.
   
 
Nov 1, 2004 Great Branding Is Rooted in Strategy -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  The “magic” behind successful brands can be achieved through balancing short- and long-term planning.
   
 
Oct 25, 2004 Sports Brands Play at Life Style -- Alycia de Mesa
  How does a sports brand make the lucrative jump to lifestyle brand?
   
 
Oct 18, 2004 Manufacturing a New Detroit -- Dale Buss
  The city of Detroit embarks on an uphill battle to improve its image.
   
 
Oct 11, 2004 News Outlets Plug into New Markets -- Stephen Gardner
  News outlets seek to grow despite increasingly fragmented audiences.
   
 
Oct 4, 2004 Brands Rise from the Dead -- Alycia de Mesa
  Can brands be resurrected? Atari and Iridium Satellite try for a comeback.
   
 
Sep 27, 2004 Brandsploitation: A New Genre in Film -- Abram Sauer
  The good, the bad, the ugly: A clear-eyed romp through the product placement hype.
   
 
Sep 20, 2004 Born into Luxury -- Alycia de Mesa
  Targeting youth: Ultra-premium fashion brands turn to the diaper-wearing set.
   
 
Sep 13, 2004 Take Pride in Your Brand -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  Brands step out of the closet to embrace gay and lesbian customers.
   
 
Sep 6, 2004 Engaging the Aging: Marketing to Europe's Seniors -- Emilie Boyer King
  Are European brands catching on to the potential of aging populations?
   
 
Aug 30, 2004 Auto Ads Drive Brand Awareness -- Edwin Colyer
  Customer driven takes on a whole new meaning when brands advertise on cars.
   
 
Aug 23, 2004 Local Markets Grow Roots -- Michael Standaert
  Local labeling helps farmers compete with large food brands.
   
 
Aug 16, 2004 A Global Dose for a Local Market -- Edwin Colyer
  Is there a prescription for implementing global pharmaceutical brands in a local market?
   
 
Aug 9, 2004 Mexican Brands Pepper US Market -- Cristian Salazar
  Mexican brands cross the border through NAFTA to reach Latino populations; but why not reach out to the non-Latinos?
   
 
Aug 2, 2004 Forcing Brands into Early Retirement -- Randall Frost
  Brand portfolio management: What happens when the brand gets turned off.
   
 
Jul 26, 2004 MTV Networks Internationally -- Robin D. Rusch
  How does MTV manage to be the Madonna of the media industry?
   
 
Jul 19, 2004 Noilly Prat: Distilled to Perfection -- Jeremy Josephs
  Noilly Prat neither shakes nor stirs the vermouth segment and yet it continues to grow steadily.
   
 
Jul 12, 2004 Your Product Name: Fame or Shame? -- Alycia de Mesa
  When a product name becomes more valuable than the corporate name, is it time to switch?
   
 
Jul 5, 2004 Street Level Strategy -- Ron Irwin
  Brands take to the street to reach underserved populations.
   
 
Jun 28, 2004 Competing Dialects: Selling English -- Dafydd ab Iago
  English schools worldwide compete for foreign students.
   
 
Jun 21, 2004 Staying Power: Surviving the Limelight -- Randall Frost
  Overexposure: How can celebrities manage their brand beyond its sell-by-date?
   
 
Jun 14, 2004 Setting the Brand to Music -- Dale Buss
  Non-music brands are joining the choir and at the same time changing the face of traditional music brands.
   
 
Jun 7, 2004 Restocking Safeway -- A.K. Cabell
  Can supermarket chain Safeway face down risk?
   
 
May 31, 2004 South Africa Makes it Local -- Ron Irwin
  Proudly South African aims to make it local and make its locality proud.
   
 
May 24, 2004 Brand and Consumers: Who's Seducing Whom? -- Randall Frost
  Is it up to multinationals to satisfy the demands of a select few at the detriment to efficiency and profit? Who does it serve if the consumer seduces the brand?
   
 
May 17, 2004 UPS and FedEx Compete to Deliver -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  UPS and FedEx are carrying their new position from employee to customer.
   
 
May 10, 2004 Changing the Face of Private Labels -- Dale Buss
  Estée Lauder enters into an exclusive arrangement that appears to be more than skin deep with US retailer Kohl’s.
   
 
May 3, 2004 Naming Names -- Alycia de Mesa
  Name that product: umbrella brands struggle to identify products and services as part of one family.
   
 
Apr 26, 2004 Trademarking: Senses and Sensibility -- Randall Frost
  To ensure a sensual connection with the brand, companies are trademarking scents, sounds, colors and shapes. Floral smelling thread anyone?
   
 
Apr 19, 2004 Mapping a Country's Future -- Randall Frost
  Branding a country or region is just like a product brand… except way more complex and far less controllable.
   
 
Apr 12, 2004 Stiff Competition: Making a Living with Death -- Stephen Gardner
  Can the traditional funeral industry in Britain survive against larger corporate groups or will it eventually die out?
   
 
Apr 5, 2004 Are You Sick of Viral Marketing? -- Abram Sauer
  Similar to any virus, viral marketing is hard to contain or control. How can you make the most of the buzz?
   
 
Mar 29, 2004 Celebrity Branding -- Alycia de Mesa
  As a star ascends it can take a product or two with it. Similarly, as a celebrity falls from grace, so goes the appeal of the brand.
   
 
Mar 22, 2004 Democracy Rules the Marketplace -- Randall Frost
  Do consumers have more control over what appears in the marketplace than voters do over legislation? What can governments learn from a branding model?
   
 
Mar 15, 2004 The Science of Branding -- Edwin Colyer
  Does branding work? Brain scans reveal powerful proof that we may prefer Pepsi, but we’ll buy Coke.
   
 
Mar 8, 2004 M-Commerce: Is the Line Dead? -- Randall Frost
  Why does mobile commerce work so well in Japan but not in the US? Is there potential for m-commerce among the one billion cell phone users worldwide?
   
 
Mar 1, 2004 How is Porn Penetrating the Mainstream Market? -- Abram Sauer
  The curtain is pulled and the lights are turned on in the adult entertainment industry. As quality rises in risqué entertainment, branding in the industry heats up.
   
 
Feb 23, 2004 How Far Can a Brand Stretch? -- Alycia de Mesa
  Disney and Virgin can, but apparently McDonald’s cannot. What allows one brand to stretch to new businesses, products, and services while others cannot?
   
 
Feb 16, 2004 Spain's Best Brands -- Interbrand
  Spain ranks its best corporate and consumer brands by value; Telfonica y Zara son las marcas más valiosas.
   
 
Feb 9, 2004 Gaining Influence Through Word of Mouth -- Randall Frost
  Can you harness word of mouth to work for you?
   
 
Feb 2, 2004 Google Gets Lucky: Brandchannel's 2003 Readers' Choice Award Results -- Robin Rusch
  Google, Apple, Ikea, Cemex and Sony dominate brandchannel's 2003 Readers’ Choice Awards.
   
 
Jan 26, 2004 Drug Makers Get in the Game -- Edwin Colyer
  American pharma leads the industry in sport sponsorship. Is it the winning play for selling drugs direct to consumer?
   
 
Jan 19, 2004 Delivering the Truth Through PR -- Randall Frost
  Is PR an effective vehicle for communicating the wonders of your brand?
   
 
Jan 12, 2004 Fueling Partnerships -- Edwin Colyer
  Gas stations expand their services to include full shopping opportunities. How does this affect the brand?
   
 
Jan 5, 2004 Which Bud's for you? -- Mark Jarvis
  As Czech Budweiser prepares to launch its first international marketing campaign, the battle between the two Buds is bound to rise to a head.