Music mogul and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs has announced plans to seek billions in damages from Diageo, a leading spirits company, accusing its CEO, Ivan Menezes, of racial discrimination.
Combs alleges that due to racial bias, Menezes and Diageo have systematically neglected his brands, Ciroc Vodka and DeLeon Tequila.
Despite the liquor giant’s public commitment to diversity and inclusion, Combs claims that the company has failed to uphold these principles in its business practices.
He alleges that Diageo has treated his brands as “Black brands,” marketing them primarily to “urban” consumers, and has failed to provide them with the same resources and opportunities as other brands in the company’s portfolio.
Combs’ allegations are based on his longstanding business relationship with Diageo, which began in 2007 with a marketing agreement for Ciroc Vodka.
The relationship expanded in 2013 when Combs and Diageo formed a joint venture to purchase the DeLeón Tequila brand. However, Combs alleges that Diageo has consistently failed to meet its commitments to his brands, leading to their neglect and underperformance.
In a particularly damning accusation, Combs alleges that Diageo’s President of Reserve and New Business, Stephen Rust, admitted in 2019 that some within Diageo’s leadership resented Combs for making too much money and that his race was part of the reason Diageo limited the neighborhoods where the Combs brands were distributed.
In another troubling incident, before the launch of Ciroc’s watermelon flavor, Sean “Diddy” Combs and his team warned Diageo about the potential racial implications of associating “watermelon” with a brand often labeled as an “urban African American brand.”
Despite their concerns, Combs approved the watermelon flavor for Ciroc but insisted that DeLeon should only introduce flavors once the brand was more established.
Still, Diageo presented Combs and his team with a developed watermelon-flavored DeLeon Tequila, disregarding Combs’ objections and the brand’s lack of flavored tequila, as well as ignoring the racial history and connotations associated with black people and watermelon.
“Mr. Combs supported, publicly endorsed for several years, and benefited financially from the success of Ciroc Summer Watermelon. His attempt to recast follow up discussions regarding innovations for DeLeon is, as is his entire suit, disingenuous and self-serving,” Diageo told AllHipHop.com in reply the new allegations.
‘It is baffling to us that Mr. Combs is criticizing brand marketing and promotion for Cîroc and DéLeon – the very efforts he led. Under the Cîroc agreement, Mr. Combs was solely responsible for brand marketing, and his personally-owned media agency was the marketing agency of record for DeLeón.'”
Combs’ lawsuit also cites a series of incidents that he claims demonstrate the company’s neglect of his brands, including a decision to discontinue a popular “half bottle” option for DeLeon Tequila without his consent and a clerical error that resulted in a critical shipment of DeLeon Tequila being impounded at the Mexican border.