Brand Killer

Here’s one of our biggest fears: The Harvard Business School will, some day soon, write another case study about National Geographic, and ask: What happened to this once-beloved, once-revered Brand?

Exhibit A will be initiatives like this “special advertising section” (above) “brought to you by Dupont.”

Give it a quick glance, and you’d think it’s similar to Shell’s sponsorship of NG’s Great Energy Challenge — with a corporate logo and a “message from [company name here]” tucked respectfully off to the side of the main content, which is produced by National Geographic.

But unlike the Shell deal, this entire “Global Collaboratory” is one long message from, for, and by Dupont. The words are ad copy. The links go to more ads for Dupont. And while that “special advertising section” tag is intended to give NGS distance and deniability, it’s embarrassingly obvious that National Geographic took the money from Dupont, and then said, in effect: You paid our price, so go ahead — have your way with our Brand.

Even the link that took us to Dupont’s Global Collaboratory gives the game away:

“NGco-branded“? But we thought this was a “special advertising section.”

Dear John,
Why is selling the Brand this way
a good thing for our Society?

John rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one — partly to hear his answer to this question —
and you can help by clicking “Recommend,” below.

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  • Jack Calico

    Let some ex-AOL guys and folks like that — in a boy’s club where the only occasional woman who rises high has to act like one of them — and this is what you’ll get. They can talk all they want about reverence for the brand, but they aren’t at NG because they wanted to work for a non-profit, if you get my drift.

    • JC/CJ – Drift received. Thing is, if John & his executive team had better ideas, I’m sure they’d be acting on them. But selling the brand to Dupont, Shell, Lipton now seems to be one of their few Big Ideas.

      The corporate colonization of NGS will no doubt continue until someone at the Society sees it’s a bridge to nowhere.

  • Ellen

    Wow. Things sure have changed from when I worked there.

    • Which was when? (I’m guessing 1980s and early ’90s. 🙂 )

  • Therese

    Jack Calico, Alan, and Ellen:

    As all/most of us know, NG is not the place we once worked. In the mid-1990s, you could see things begin to change almost overnight. Diversification, which was necessary for the continued existence of the Society, did not go hand-in-hand with the traditions and historical goals of the Society. White men (mainly) were brought in and given big salaries, bonuses, and perks. Making money is the ultimate goal. NG has pimped itself out to the highest or lowest bidder, depending on the circumstances. NG is willing to slap its name on just about any product. They are counting on the good NG name. Geography education, quality, in-depth research, and “inspiring people to care about the planet”—all just buzzwords.

    • Hi Therese – Thanks for your comment. And yes, things have certainly changed — although please know I’m not trying to revive the 1970s. I’m simply suggesting there IS another way.

      Take China, for instance. Plenty of companies do business there, and say it’s a market imperative: If we don’t get into China, other will — and our stockholders will abandon us. Which is probably true. And it’s not easy to make a coherent case against the imperatives of global capitalism. I mean, you can, but it’s sounds borderline utopian, and perhaps a bit unhinged.

      But in many ways, deciding to NOT establish a publishing partnership in China makes perfect sense for NGS. The non-profit side has no stockholders, no union, no membership lobby, no history in China. Our Society has no compelling reason to go there, and so many reasons not to go.

      Also, remember this: NGS is ultimately run by John Fahey & the board of trustees. About 20 people. That’s it. Think about that for a minute: If you can find a way to change their minds, you could change the world — or at least the microphone at 17th & M that’s wired to the world.

      Twenty people. How can you/we change their minds?

      What’s happening at NGS is still a story in progress….

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