Nelson Mandela. Freedom fighter. Anti-apartheid activist. Former President of South Africa. There are many ways to describe the man who became a legend, but what about Nelson Mandela the brand?
The icon’s name and image have now been attached to a number of products and various other things, most backed and approved by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. These include:
• All 58 South African Airways planes are emblazoned with the orange-and-black logo of a silhouetted Nelson Mandela near boarding doors and on headrests.
• Nelson Mandela clothing. The line is 46664 Apparel, named after Mandela's prison ID number when he was imprisoned, from 1964 to 1990.
• The country of Cape Verde in West Africa recently named the airport in the capital city after Mandela. In January, Praia International Airport was renamed Nelson Mandela Airport. According to reports, the government of Cape Verde decided on the name change to improve bilateral relations with South Africa.
• The House of Mandela. This is a wine brand named for Mandela that entered the R20-billion South African wine industry in 2010. Why? During his incarceration, Mandela enjoyed one glass of wine each week.
• Earlier this month, South Africa issued bank notes bearing Mandela’s image. Current South African President Jacob Zuma announced that Nelson Mandela's face will be featured on all South Africa's bank notes to honor the former president's role in ending the system of apartheid.
• Also this month, the Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project was launched. It contains nearly 2,000 mementos from the life of the 93-year-old leader. Among the documents that can now be seen online are the earliest-known photographs of Mandela, taken in 1938, hand-written letters and diaries written during his 27 years of imprisonment, and previously unseen drafts of the sequel to his autobiography. The site is a collaboration between Google and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in South Africa.
Can marketing an icon such as Mandela cheapen his historical significance? According to global branding expert Jacquie Lee, the foundation has to ensure each item does not denigrate Mandela’s image and beliefs. "As long as the branding is aligned with Mr. Mandela’s core values and it’s consistent to his actions and principles, it does not lessen the equity in his name," she says. "I do advise that there should be some vigilance in what they choose to align with in the near future. If it’s not empowering people then I recommend for it not to have his name attached."
In 2009, the foundation began to makes efforts to avoid Mandela’s name from being exploited. This move was prompted after Republic of the Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso used a 53-word excerpt from a speech Mandela is said to have given on a visit to the Republic of the Congo as a foreword to his autobiography, Straight Speaking for Africa. The Nelson Mandela Foundation stated publicly that Mandela had never read the book much less agreed to have his words used as a foreword. The foundation in turn agreed on a code of conduct banning the commercialization of Mandela's name or image by his four official charities — the Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education. The foundation also requested that the other 44 charities of which Mandela is a patron to sign on as well.
According to Lee, as long as Mandela’s images are not exploited, there should be no backlash for Mandela. "In the case of Mr. Mandela, I do not view any negative backlash. His story resonates within our history as a man that endured and kept his promise to inspire and elevate peace. He makes it very clear that his source is his faith. He is the symbol of Hope and Redemption," says Lee, who is embarking on a new role as vice president of Integrated Marketing and New Business Development for the Soul of the South Broadcast network, which will launch in May of 2012.
The branding of Mandela also benefits the country of South Africa. "It helps South Africa. Mr. Mandela galvanized an audience that did not recognize that the continent of Africa had multiple countries. People generally defer to Africa as one country. Mandela raised awareness of the plight and the riches South Africa offers to the world at large. South Africa became a benchmark," she points out.