Is I Love Durban a lie?

2014-03-25 00:00

CARVER Media — the company awarded a R500 000 social media campaign contract by the city on the strength that they own the “I Love Durban” slogan — doesn’t own it at all.

This is despite the company and the city having said that the slogan is trademarked in previous correspondence.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) confirmed with The Witness that neither of Carver Media’s holding companies — Carver IT and Carver Holdings — own the trademark “I Love Durban”.

Carver Media has been under intense public scrutiny for the last 10 days after it was found that they had been awarded a social media contract worth R495 000 without going to tender. The company was expected to promote the city in the We Love Cities Campaign — an initiative by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to promote sustainable and safe cities over a 10-day period. But critics have argued that the city was grossly overcharged by Carver, who among their contractual tasks were expected to upload three pictures to Facebook a week, send a bulk e-mail, upload videos, tweet with the hashtag #welovedurban and complete target advertising on online platforms.

Durban was one of 33 cities globally competing in the competition, which ended on March 20 with the winner to be announced on Thursday. Since last week a slew of allegations have been made at the company, including that they created fake online social media accounts. This led to the metro last week Thursday announcing that they had ordered the contract to be investigated by the internal Ombudsman.

The Sunday Tribune reported that the company had tapped into family connections within the metropolitan to further their business interests, that they had used pirated software to create websites and that the city was intending to buy the slogan from Carver Media for R3 million.

The CIPC, who were provided with the details of Carver Media’s two registered holding companies, said all searches for the trademark came back with “negative results”.

CIPC senior official Karin Coode said, “The ‘I love Durban’ trademark has not been registered by the company as a trademark. There are applications sent through but they include Durban Loves You and IDurban.co.za”.

“The bottom line is the trademark ‘I Love Durban’ is not registered nor applied for by Carver,” said Coode.

Last Friday, The Witness revealed that both Carver Holdings and Carver IT were in the process of final deregistration. The Democratic Alliance said the company should never have been awarded the contract in the first place if this is true.

Last week Monday, Carver Media co-owner Praneetha Aniruth told The Witness the slogan “is a registered trademark”.

On the same day, city communications head Tozi Mthethwa said the reason Carver Media was awarded the contract was because Carver Media are “the owners of the ‘I Love Durban’ trademark”.

Both the city and Carver Media were asked to comment and asked to provide evidence of whether a trademark did indeed exist for the slogan.

Aniruth, who co-owns Carver Media with her husband Avilash, confirmed receipt of the questions and replied, “We will send them to our legal department and they will get back to you”.

The company has consistently denied all the allegations.

Mthethwa said she is unable to provide any further information until the matter has been investigated internally, and they had asked it be “investigated as quickly as possible”.

But Durban Tourism head Phillip Sithole has said, while recognising that there is an investigation surrounding Carver Media’s contract, it is important that residents do not lose sight of the fact that the “I Love Durban” phrase could have a long-lasting positive effect on past and future visitors.

Sithole said they have an agreement with Carver Media to tap into their social presence on their I Love Durban Facebook and Twitter account, for which they pay. He said the slogan has international appeal. He denied the allegation that the city would want to buy the slogan for R3 million.

“The ‘I Love Durban’ slogan is great for global tourism and often offers a cheap memento for any traveller to mark their visit. Similar slogans are used by cities across the globe. We aligned with Carver Media on this because they had a strong online following with the slogan. It made sense for us to tap into this market,” said Sithole.

He said he was under the impression Carver Media owned the brand, but that the negative hype surrounding the company could be damaging to Brand Durban.

DA eThekwini caucus leader Zwakhele Mncwango said the party is considering referring the matter to the Public Protector’s office.

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