Diamond Miners Form Generic Promotion Group

At the same time that De Beers has decided to resurrect “A Diamond Is Forever,” another old idea is coming back: that diamonds should be promoted as a generic product.

Seven leading miners—Rio Tinto, De Beers, Dominion Diamond Corp., Petra Diamonds, Gem Diamonds, Alrosa, and Lucara Diamond Corp.—are forming the Diamond Producers Association (DPA), a new group that will, among other things, take on the old De Beers mantle of promoting the diamond category. 

It is an idea whose time has come, organizers say.

“We are one of the few commodity sectors that doesn’t have a producer association,” says Rio Tinto Diamonds head Jean-Marc Lieberherr. “Tin, nickel, even milk have associations. Because of the structure of the industry and because of the past role of De Beers, the industry has not matured. We are becoming a more normal industry, and the fact that this group is coming now is a sign of maturity.”

Still, Forevermark CEO Stephen ­Lussier, one of the architects of the old De Beers campaigns, says we shouldn’t expect a return to the old days of big-money diamond advertising: “The organization will focus on areas of consumer desire. But we have to recognize this isn’t going back to 20 years ago with $100 million budgets all done by De Beers.”

Lieberherr doesn’t even know if that would work today. “We are never going back to $200 million advertising on television,” he says. “The young people we are targeting, they don’t even watch TV. If you look at the brands that target young people, they do it with social media and digital advertising.”

On top of that, the group is launching with a relatively modest $6 million budget, and members are urging the industry to tamp down expectations.

“Anyone who thinks he can do generic marketing on a $6 million budget—I wish him well,” says Jim Pounds, executive vice president of diamonds at Dominion Diamond Corp.

In fact, the DPA’s mandate is far wider than just stoking consumer desire and safeguarding confidence. The organization also plans to conduct industry research, exchange best practices on health and safety measures, and act as a unified voice for diamond producers.

This is the second attempt to form a “new De Beers.” The first, the International Diamond Board—which would have involved retailers and other trade associations—nearly came to fruition in 2009 but fell apart as a result of competing agendas.

“When you get a quite diverse group, it’s difficult to manage the wish list of everyone,” Pounds says. “Now we are quite focused and we will make this work.”

One potential problem area for the group: Not all diamond producers are alike. Some have been accused of serious labor and human rights abuses. But ­Lussier says the group will enforce tight standards for members. “There are clear criteria around the area of responsibility,” he says. “We need to have that if the organization is going to speak on matters of reputation.”

This isn’t the only current attempt at generic diamond marketing. For the past few years, the World Diamond Mark, a hallmarking effort launched by the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, has found surprising support amid a limited budget.

Alex Popov, chairman of the World Diamond Mark Foundation, says he hopes to work with the DPA: “Maybe we can join their campaign, or they can join ours. They can’t do it alone, and neither can we.” Lieberherr says his group is open to working with others. “If we have campaigns that are compelling and value-adding and others wish to contribute, we will make that possible.”

Consumer news reports called the group’s formation a response to the growing profile of synthetics. Organizers strongly deny that, but admit there is a need to communicate better with new consumers.

“There is a concern that the younger generation has never been exposed to a diamond message,” ­Lieberherr says. “The millennials were not even born when De Beers was doing their big advertising campaign. They have never really been reached by a diamond message. Diamonds are not relevant to them. They are probably not even an alternative to many of them.

“Yet we think that the message, and what diamonds stand for, is universal,” he continues. “Love is universal. There is no reason why we can’t touch these young people. Love is the most important thing in their lives.… We feel we are sitting on a most extraordinary product, an amazing brand, but it has been left unnurtured. And we want to nurture it and make sure this miracle of nature gets the attention it deserves and that it really has not been getting for the past 10 years.”

The group is presently looking for an executive director, who will be based in London.

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