Seriously Flawed JCOC SurveyJanuary 14, 10
More often than not, when a company commissions a public opinion survey those who spent the money want to see results that put favorable light on the product they wish to push into the market. Therefore, the ability of a survey organization to remain fair and objective and to resist posing slanted, biased, leading and misleading questions is absolutely critical to the preservation of its integrity.
It seems that California-based MVI Ltd., which operates the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC), an Internet-based market research service, has made a serious slip – or more than that, an outright fall, with its latest survey. It set out to “assess current [U.S.] consumer perceptions of the issues and challenges facing the mined diamond industry and current consumer awareness and preferences for created diamond alternatives.”
In surveys, the answers always depend on the phrasing of the questions. In the JCOC survey, one posed question asks, “If you had to choose between a style of jewelry with mined diamond or a style of jewelry with a created diamond alternative and both stones sizes were of equal size and brilliance, which would you choose?” According to JCOC, the respondents were divided equally 50 percent-50 percent.
Consumers definitely know what diamonds are, and when contrasting diamonds with synthetics, the normal usage would be “natural diamonds.” The word “natural” and the word “synthetics” does not even appear once in any of the questions in this survey, nor do they appear in a 25-page confidential report on the research findings. Furthermore, the familiar term “cultured” (which is allowed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)) does not appear either.
But the issue goes much deeper than that. In introducing the terms “mined diamonds” and “created diamond alternatives,” the JCOC provided the survey respondents with the following background explanation:
“Diamonds are beautiful. They are among the most treasured materials known to man because of their extraordinary physical and optical properties, as well as their rarity. Mined diamonds are mined from deep in the earth. This has some environmentalists concerned about the destructive nature of mining and the chemicals used. Others are concerned about profits from illicit diamond mining being used to fund the purchase of arms in war torn countries and contributing towards human suffering. Because of these issues, many people have opted for created diamond alternatives available in fine jewelry instead of mined diamonds. Created diamond alternatives are created in a laboratory. In the next few pages we are going to ask you about your preferences for created diamond alternatives.”
So now, we know how the JCOC views mined diamonds and their created alternatives.
Setting the Mood…
The JCOS’s description effectively sets the context, the mood and the background to the survey’s questions. I would like to believe that this depiction will become a classic in any future academic literature on heavily loaded, totally misleading questions – misleading because the consumer is given a choice between a mined (i.e. natural) product that is associated with destructive nature of mining, with the use of chemicals, with the profits from illicit diamond mining being used to fund the purchase of arms in war-torn countries and contributing towards human suffering, and very simply created diamond alternatives.
There are no negative associations at all for “created diamond alternatives.” Incidentally, descriptions of created diamond alternatives come only later in the survey; at the beginning of the survey, consumers are left guessing, only knowing that these are not associated with negative attributes.
Indeed, after reading this short JCOC description to differentiate between natural diamonds and synthetics, a person must really be heartless, unloving, cynical and non-caring if she or he would still consider purchasing a natural diamond – at any price.
Apparently counting on that sentiment, JCOC posed its respondents with the question, “If you had to choose between a style of jewelry with a mined diamond or a style of jewelry with a created diamond alternative and both styles were of equal PRICE which would you choose?” Lo and behold – if synthetics would come at the very same price of the natural diamonds, 40 percent of U.S. consumers would choose the synthetics (or, as JCOC calls it, the “created diamond alternative.”)
Then JCOC wants to find out what the various price thresholds are, and one should really purchase the report to get the precise details. But I can tell you that, according to the survey results, if the natural diamond jewelry costs $4,000 and the created alternative costs $1,500, the JCOC believes that 72 percent of consumers will purchase the synthetics.
Mixing Synthetics and Simulants
All these foregoing questions were asked without actually explaining who or what the “created alternatives” are. This flaw is rectified when discussing the brands – and the party ordering (and financing) the survey would most likely be among these brands. The presented brands are Apollo, Gemesis, Diamond Nexus, Moissanite and Asha.
I am not familiar with what was said about each brand, though JCOC says that the introductions given to respondents were taken from each of the company's respective websites, the websites of their retail distributors (where applicable) and interviews with retail distributors (where applicable).
The survey’s clear winner is Diamond Nexus. When asked, “Which brand of created diamond alternative would be best as an engagement ring,” some 52 percent opted for Diamond Nexus, making Apollo a distant second at 20 percent. Needless to say, that Diamond Nexus is the preferred choice of all the respondents in the various categories that the survey explored.
Comparing Elephants to Frigidaires…
What really troubles me is that surveys such as these only add confusion among diamond consumers.
The great winner in the survey, Diamond Nexus, is not a lab-grown diamond at all. It is a near colorless diamond simulant with none of the chemical or optical properties of natural or lab-created diamonds. Instead of educating consumers, these kinds of surveys place lab-created diamonds in the very same basket as simulants. Maybe that is done intentionally, though I don’t know that, and I can see that this may appeal to quite a few interested parties.
One may conclude from the survey’s findings that the consumer is still confused as to the differences between an actual lab-created “synthetic” diamond (Apollo, Chatham, D.NEA, Gemesis, Morion, New Age, Takara, Tairus, etc.) and a diamond simulant (Asha, Diamond Nexus, Moissanite, etc).
I kind of suspect a hidden motive behind this survey: just as synthetics like to be seen as “near equal” to natural diamonds, the “simulants” would like to be seen as “near equal” to synthetics. What JCOC has clearly done is attempt to equate simulants to lab-grown diamonds by coining the phrase or term "lab-created diamond alternative."
As there is already quite a degree of confusion in the market surrounding the differences between lab-created diamonds and simulants, why would the JCOC – which is a service organization to our industry – want to further “confuse” the consumer by introducing yet another term? If I find this confusing, how will less informed consumers deal with it?
Alternatives to What?
Does the JCOC refer to an "alternative” to “lab-created diamonds" or is it talking about a "lab-created alternative to mined diamonds"? To be considered non-ambiguous, the term would have to be "lab-created mined diamond alternative" or "lab-created alternative to mined diamonds." But why even use the word "alternative"?
Why should a legally compliant and ethical survey company such as MVI not use the FTC’s approved terms of “lab-created diamonds” and “diamond stimulant”? One may agree or disagree with some of the FTC Jewelry Guide rules, but they are the law of the land for the purpose of marketing. Why create terms that are outside of the agreed marketing nomenclature?
Using “lab-created diamond” (an accepted FTC term for lab-grown diamonds) with the suffix of “alternative” to describe simulants is at the very least confusing and could potentially be viewed as intentionally misleading. The JCOC may well be playing with fire here.
In all fairness to JCOC, let’s read again the task it set out to accomplish. “This study was developed and deployed to assess current consumer perceptions of the issues and challenges facing the mined diamond industry and current consumer awareness and preferences for created diamond alternatives” (emphasis added.)
What JCOC has done is “prove” that at least half or more of the respondents will prefer a particular branded simulant (not a lab-made diamond, but rather a simulant) to a real, natural diamond. It’s more than that – consumers prefer a particular brand simulant even to lab-created diamonds.
I conducted a survey myself asking one respondent (me) to rate this particular JCOC survey: 100 percent of the respondents found it seriously flawed, irrelevant and misleading.
Have a nice weekend.