Mandela brand 'polluted' by online marketing

Cape Town - As the country mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, many traders - online and offline - have jumped on the name to sell everything from blankets to electronics.

Large retailers like Incredible Connection, Woolworths, Pick n Pay as well as major bankers Absa and FNB featured a message of condolence for Nelson Mandela prominently on their websites.

Several Twitter users also changed their profile pictures to that of Mandela as a mark of respect for the values espoused by the former South African president.

However, the brand Nelson Mandela can be used to ostensibly market a company image, rather than pay respect to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Until Wednesday, online classifieds website Gumtree.co.za displayed the likeness of Mandela over the site's logo. Online platforms make it easier to change and adapt marketing strategy, particularly as more consumers migrate to the web.

Mandela brand

"Online marketing has become a key focus for brands globally, and we are seeing an exponential growth of this channel in South Africa too," Axe South Africa brand manager Vincent Viviers told News24.

Unilever made extensive use of online marketing channels in their Axe Apollo campaign which will see one South African going to space.

However, after the announcement of Mandela's death the company withdrew high profile marketing in SA as a mark of respect.

The brand represented by Mandela should be respected for what the man stood for, argued a marketing executive.

"The Mandela brand's core values stood for the good of the people and I believe that the brand is then owned by a South African based Mandela foundation, set to benefit the beneficiaries of the foundation," Dineo Molaba, account manager of Corporate Services at FleishmanHillard told News24.

She warned that the Mandela brand should remain free of opportunistic marketing of consumer goods because it might impact on his stature and legacy.

"As with all personality-based brands, guidelines are instilled to ensure that a brand stays true to its roots. The Mandela brand guidelines are centred on Mr Mandela’s face not being placed on commercial products, and not being associated with tobacco and alcohol," she wrote in a thinly veiled reference to the House of Mandela Wine range, run by his granddaughters.

Intellectual property

In a global online environment, it is difficult if not impossible to protect a brand like Nelson Mandela from being exploited by unscrupulous operators.

According to the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Unit (Unicri), organised crime syndicates have turned to cybercrime and intellectual property theft because weak enforcement made the practice highly profitable.

"Transnational organised crime networks have turned to counterfeiting and piracy to take advantage of the high profits and minimal penalties set forth by intellectual property rights law as well as the weak enforcement measures associated with these crimes," said Marco Musumeci, responsible for the anti-counterfeiting programme at Unicri.

Molaba said that brand owners need to ensure that they jealously guard their brand, as it could be related directly to the bottom line.

"I think that generally people should understand that the stronger the brand is, the greater the correlation is to consumer purchasing.  That is why businesses need to invest heavily in protecting such an intangible part of their business."


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