60 Minutes tarnished De Beers image but not the reputation of diamond industry

The 60 Minutes episode about De Beers and ”conflict diamonds” tarnished the image of De Beers to consumers but did not damage the overall reputation of the diamond industry, according to a survey conducted by J. Walter Thompson.

”The small percentage of the U.S. population (11 million households) that viewed the segment came away with a negative impression of De Beers, but we are pleased that attitudes towards the overall diamond industry remained very positive and consistent with prior research studies,” Joan Parker, director of the Diamond Information Center, said in a statement.

For example, 63% of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the diamond industry has products ”I wouldn’t hesitate to buy,” according to the research. And just over one-third agreed with the statement that ”De Beers is a reputable company.”

The research was conducted the day after the February 18 segment on 60 Minutes. ”The goal was to provide a snapshot of the immediate this programming had on public opinion about De Beers and the diamond industry,” Parker said.

The study is part of J. Walter Thompson’s ongoing tracking of conflict diamond awareness, Parker said.

According to the research, Parker says, it appears that the negativity stemmed from the ”erroneous portrayal” of the company’s business practices and not necessarily the conflict diamond issue.

Parker added that she was not surprised by the research, given that the segment ”was extremely one-sided and provided a very biased perspective of De Beers and its activities.”

Parker noted that the survey was done immediately after the program when ideas and images were fresh in the viewer’s mind. ‘We expect negative reactions to diminish as more time goes by,’ Parker said.

Despite the attitude erosion related to the corporate image, nearly 70% of those surveyed still agreed with the statement that ”De Beers is a company whose products I wouldn’t hesitate to buy.”

The statement went on to note that De Beers responded to the segment with a strongly worded letter to 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt. The letter, written by Rory More O’Ferrall, corporate affairs director, stated that the account of the company’s Sight system was ‘riddled with inaccuracies and called the suggestions of ”laundering” by U.S. Sightholders a ”gross distortion of facts and insult to the well established and respectable members of the diamond industry, the diamond dealers, manufacturers and jewelers of America.”