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What will happen to NDC after the departure of ALROSA?

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On January 1, 2023, Stephen Lussier, former Vice President of De Beers, one of the oldest and most respected members of the diamond corporation, stepped down as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Natural Diamond Council (NDC). He was replaced by David Prager, member of the De Beers Executive Committee currently responsible for the marketing of De Beers Group and its brands. One may recall that NDC emerged in mid-2020 as a result of the rebranding to the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) established in 2015 with the aim of recreating the generic marketing of diamonds, which ceased simultaneously when De Beers shifted away from monopoly regulation of the diamond market.

Stephen Lussier's departure was preceded by ALROSA's withdrawal from NDC accompanied by dramatic statements about a possible sharp (up to 50%) reduction in funding for this organization in 2023. Indeed, ALROSA was the largest sponsor of NDC, and now the main burden of financing the generic marketing obviously falls on De Beers, just like in the good old days.

The membership fees of diamond mining companies, which formed the basis of the NDC budget, amounted to $69,515,760 in 2020 and $74,874,571 in 2021, while the report for 2022 has not yet been published1. The amounts are not small, comparable to the budget of an average Hollywood blockbuster. DiCaprio's Blood Diamond, for example, cost $100 million to produce, while Nicolas Cage's Lord of War cost only $50 million. How efficient is NDC with sponsorship money?

The declaration on the NDC website states: "The mission of the Natural Diamond Council is to advance the integrity of the modern diamond jewelry industry and inspire, educate and protect the consumer."2 Of course, it is possible and necessary to solve these noble tasks using the potential of social networks, video hosting and communication platforms, which NDC CEO David Kellie specifically emphasized in his speech at the September Facets 2022 conference3.

NDC is represented on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Facebook. Let's start with YouTube, as this platform is the most visited of those mentioned accounting for almost 23 billion unique visitors per year. The NDC channel (https://www.youtube.com/@onlynaturaldiamonds) has only 18,000 subscribers, and what is most curious is that this number has not changed over the years: starting from July 2020 (when NDC was incepted) and until January 2023, it enjoyed the attention of the same 18,000 fans of natural diamonds, no more and no less. If the channel aroused any interest, the number of subscribers should have been growing from the moment of its launch, and if it did not, the number of subscribers should have been decreasing. And such a rock-solid loyalty of the audience suggests with a high probability its artificial origin.

Program video “Treasure Now And Forever with Lily James | Only Natural Diamonds” (Lily James is the NDC Ambassador) is gaining 6.6 million views, but only 5 (five) comments and 51 likes! What a silent and compliment-stingy army of natural diamond fans… Or which is much more likely, the traffic is shamelessly inflated. Indeed, checking with the SpyFu SEO analysis service shows that the NDC YouTube channel has only 1% (one percent) of organic traffic (provided by interested users who came to the website through a direct link or through regular queries in search engines), while 99% of this traffic is paid. This circumstance explains a strange paradox: the program video with Lily James gains 6.6 million views, while the video “Lily's Natural Diamond Jewelry | Eternity Band" wins only… 218 views (4 likes, 0 comments). Wow, Lily James' 6.6 million fans have absolutely no interest in her diamonds! Or the traffic on this video is not paid. But these 218 views are organic traffic, an honest audience of the channel generously sponsored by the world's largest diamond mining companies. For comparison, the video with the intriguing title "Why lab-grown diamonds are better than mined diamonds” posted on the DW Planet A channel scored 1 million views with 1 931 comments and 31,000 likes, with organic traffic standing at 99%.

The organic traffic of Twitter NDC accounts for 3%, Facebook NDC - 3%, LinkedIn NDC - 1%, Pinterest NDC - 1%, Instagram NDC - 1%. Simply put, NDC does not have a real audience on social networks. Things are somewhat better with the NDC website (https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/). It gets about 130,000 monthly visitors (about 1.5 million per year) with a 45% / 55% organic-to-paid-traffic ratio. Against this backdrop, David Kellie's statement that "130 million consumers now visit the NDC’s Only Natural Diamonds platform annually - 100 times more than prior to its relaunch" looks more than strange.

So, we have a picture of a marketing failure. The real audience is scanty and there is no influence on the market - paying tens of millions of dollars for such "work" is simply pointless.

Why generic marketing of natural diamonds is once again turned out to be ineffective? There are several reasons, but we will focus on the two most important. The first is that the strategy of NDC (and previously DPA) is based on the desire to separate the markets for natural and synthetic diamonds; in fact, the slogan “Only Natural Diamonds” itself is a vivid confirmation of this. We have long and repeatedly written that the desire to divide such markets is a fundamental methodological mistake4. Time has confirmed our expectations. An attempt to relegate synthetic diamonds to the class of imitation jewelry has failed. Go to Blue Nile and see the plethora of synthetic diamond engagement rings in the $500-$50,000 range. An engagement ring cannot be imitation jewelry by definition. It is obvious that the competitor bites off with a crunch the tastiest part of the diamond pie - what kind of “market separation” one may talk about against this background.

The correct strategy for generic marketing would be not the division of markets, but their synergy, achieved by giving the status of being “original” to natural diamonds, and the status of being “copies” to synthetic ones. The market is unified, but the pricing for goods with the “original” attribute differs from that for goods with the “copy” attribute, if only because the number of originals is finite, and copies can be produced in arbitrary quantities. If this concept were introduced into the consumer's mind, the problem of competition between natural and synthetic diamonds would be removed in principle, and generic marketing would have to work for a single concept of "diamond" to the satisfaction of all market stakeholders. But instead, we have Only Natural Diamonds - objectively an invitation to a trade war with synthetic diamond manufacturers.

The second reason for the failure of NDC lies in the neglect of the only marketing advantage natural diamonds have over synthetic ones - their History. There is historical content on the NDC platforms, but it is extremely poor, and the presentation is primitive - no bright plot, no intrigue, no development. The ingredients were great, but the chef failed to make the best of them, and the would-be luxurious rare-done steak turned into a fast-food patty.

It is quite possible that, as leftist philosophers put it, the laws of dialectics came into play. Once upon a time, a handful of adventurers created a world diamond monopoly, which worked well in South Africa with its very strange ideas about man and humanity at that time, and with the Soviet Union, which did not even have diplomatic relations with that South Africa. This monopoly spent a lot of money in the US to create a diamond dream for both the quiet residents of the Midwest and the bohemia of the coastal area despite the fact that the management of the monopoly, as well as the corporation as a whole were under US sanctions, in fact, for being a monopoly.

Nowadays, no one works like that on a grand scale, at least in the diamond world. Now, like synthetic diamonds, all this just boils down to a thoroughgoing imitation and gray bureaucracy instead of initiative, to the hypocrisy of consumer purity instead of human passions and desires, which the diamond once symbolized.

In the words of Paul Hogan's character from the "Crocodile Dundee" blockbuster (with a budget of $10 million): "Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit."

Sergey Goryainov, Rough&Polished


1 NDC Limited. Company registration number 09608626. Report and group financial statements for the year ended 31/12/2021.
2 https://www.naturaldiamonds.com/about/ 
3 https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/natural-diamond-council-funding/ 
4 https://www.rough-polished.com/en/analytics/117586.html