Sunday, 1 July 2007

The Meltdown

The most vociferous arguments against branding for diamonds come from the sightholders who have tried it and failed. They are no small group. The graveyard of the industry is littered with the remains of many an expensive experiment, often never even officially laid to rest. Most lie, ignominiously discarded in filing cabinets, ignored and forgotten, only to be dusted down every few years when the DTC SOC questionnaire arrives. A name, duly registered and trademarked, a slick print-advert extolling its virtues and of course, a jaw-dropping price tag, jaded testimony to their owners’ commitment to modern and downstream marketing techniques.

To be fair, despite the ongoing hype and the pressure put on the larger players in the market to create branding for their wares, the naysayers are not entirely wrong. The truth is, the days when a (large) budget, crisp and convincing visuals and enough pages and airtime were all you needed to launch and maintain a new worldwide brand, are definitely over.

The global infotainment culture is changing. The big national TV and media channels are steadily losing influence. In their place multiple, localised and specialist channels jostle to provide personalised content direct to users. Meanwhile the Internet is fast becoming the medium of choice for news and information. The captive audience, that we advertisers could once bewitch with our carefully crafted spells, have wised-up and now take their news, information and entertainment on their own terms, in their own time and relatively ad free.

Even the world’s top brands like Coke and MacDonald’s are drastically scaling back their classic advertising budgets. In its place they are concentrating their efforts on more novel and exciting ways of attracting customers to absorb their message. Smirnoff, the vodka people, are paying game developers to incorporate their product in popular video games. Car manufacturers Toyota paid $16 million to have their cars featured on popular the USA TV show The Contenders. Creditcard company AmEx hired popular comedian, Jerry Sienfeld, to play in an extended play, online advertainment campaign. Even more lucrative, for those that can get it, is news placement, although, whether the Hilton chain is cashing in on their name’s antics after (and behind) bars, is debateable.

Diamonds are not like cars or soap powder, it is true. You do not try, or even want to, reach every single household in the developed world with your diamond branding; unless you have come up with an idea as good as the diamond engagement-ring, which has. But the target audience for ‘iced’ jewellery has been extensively touched by the efforts of the industry of the last five years and it is worth noting that most of the successes that have been booked in diamond (jewellery) branding have come at the expense of those before. There is very little actual growth of the market in branded goods and practically no consistent evidence of customers being attracted to buy a diamond instead of some other luxury gift, because of the branding. (A phenomenon mysteriously referred to as ‘increased incremental demand’ in DTC speak, despite there being no increment that I can ascertain).

There is some good news in the market, although not everybody is entirely sure how to deal with it. Bling is in! But, it is not every diamantaire’s dream to feature prominently, as the supplier of diamonds to firms like GangstaGold, selling personalised gold teeth and $17.000 diamond encrusted dogcollar, to the hip-hop generation or who do a diamond encrusted baby’s dummy.

The bling revolution is deliberately in-your-face, in line with the whole gangsta rap culture. The fact that the establishment is uncomfortable with it is actually necessary to make it credible. And yes, it does stand in stark contrast to the caring, sharing, family orientated, Love Forever image that the DTC and the diamond establishment promote. But the denim jeans also started out as a protest garment and today it is Versace and Dolce and Gabbana versions, adorning the posteriors that protesting bling-wearers most want to kick.

Not that I am promoting a massive rush to push for delights like a diamond studded ‘IceBox’ for storing crack cocaine. I do not believe it is necessary or desirable to destroy the very successful link that has been made in human minds, between diamonds and eternal love. I am saying that the brands of tomorrow will probably not fit into the mould that has been constructed. The ‘I love you’ part of the human relationship has practically been covered ad nauseam and it is up to the industry to create the new buzz that will lure new customers to the diamond counter.

As long as diamonds are available, creative minds will be searching for ways to convince consumers to buy them. But it will be totally new concepts and novel new uses that will capture the hearts and wallets of the cyber generation, not pretty pictures of beautiful jewellery with inventive names.

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