A Kingdom Holding ad that broke last month on cable news and financial networks opens with a shot of P&G corporate headquarters, soon obscured by a big Pepsi truck and followed by shots of its holdings including Disneyland Paris and News Corp.
vote of confidence
The prince's investment fund doesn't currently solicit outside investors, and the ads don't appear to be selling anything but a vote of confidence in the companies or their links to Kingdom Holding.
Prince Alwaleed, nephew of King Fahd, is the fourth richest man in the world, according to the latest ranking of Forbes, with a net worth of $21.5 billion. He's perhaps best known in the U.S. for having his $10 million check to aid post-Sept. 11 relief efforts curtly returned by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani after the prince offered foreign policy advice along with the help.
Links with Saudi Arabia have become, if anything, more controversial lately. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward referred in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" to a deal under which the kingdom would increase oil production to keep prices low during the U.S. presidential election. The Saudi government denied such a pledge and, later, in a joint appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" with Mr. Woodward, Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, ambassador to the U.S., said the kingdom discussed keeping oil prices low with former U.S. presidents Carter and Clinton, too.
"I'm not even sure how much of [our] stock they own," said a P&G spokesman, who said the company was contacted by Kingdom Holding "several years ago" for permission to use the company's likeness in such an ad. Kingdom did not return calls for comment.
A PepsiCo spokesman said his company was contacted by Kingdom Holding more than a year ago for permission to use its likeness in an ad. "We did not have any issue with them including PepsiCo in the ad then and we don't have any issue now," he said.
According to a Lebanese Web site supported by Kingdom Holding, it owns less than 1% of P&G and PepsiCo.
Prince Alwaleed's holdings are extensive enough that finding unconflicted commentary on their PR implications isn't easy. "I'd like to comment," said Howard Rubenstein, principal of the eponymous New York PR firm, "but he has a sizeable investment in one of my clients." Kingdom Holding owns 50% of the Plaza Hotel.
The ad has started catching the attention of blogs, one of which, the Panda Manifesto, last week asked: "What is the point of being a shadowy cabal if you're going to go and make a commercial for yourself? ... Quit creeping me out."
Prince Alwaleed, however, doesn't like to lurk. He regularly issues press releases on his visits with global power players. Among stops he's touted: a Feb. 11 dinner with Bill Gates in his Bellevue, Wash., home, followed by a Feb. 12 lunch with former President Clinton in his New York office.