The Perils of Associating Brands with Personalities

By Julian Beynon

March 23, 2021

Brand Positioning, Brand Story, Brand Strategy

Written by: Julian Beynon

I write this based on the idea that you want your company to be as successful as possible. The bigger you get, the more people you employ. You give back by creating jobs and feeding families. It's basic capitalism. This is all about how Mike Lindell destroyed his business, and what Gerald Ratner did to his High Street jewelry chain in the UK.

http://Consumer want brands to be vocal about social issues

There are a large number of businesses where the founder's name becomes inextricably linked to the brand. That's absolutely fine! The brands that immediately cross my mind are those of Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and Donald Trump. But here's the rub of these powerful brand associations, if these people decide to move outside your brand’s values, it risks decimating your business.

By being a business success, you get a media platform. Look at Jamie Oliver. His success allowed him to start the 15 Foundation, a nonprofit helping challenged young people qualify for the hospitality industry. That organization has recently collapsed, as has Oliver's business empire but was entirely on-brand. In the UK, Jamie campaigned for more nutritious meals for children in schools; again, completely on-brand.

Look at Bombas, which started out selling just socks. For every pair they sold, they donated a pair to a homeless person.

Jennifer Aaker, Stanford Quote

Ratners used to be on every High Street in the UK, a place where people got their jewelry, watches, and engagement rings. His business nearly collapsed after a speech in which he said, "We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95." People questioned his statement – How can you sell this for such a low price?" The simple answer is- "because it's total crap." He compounded this by going on to remark that one of the sets of earrings was "cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn't last as long." Marks and Spencer (M&S) being a UK upper-middle-class food and clothing chain. That was such a direct insult to his working-class customer base that he'd be fired from his own company within the year. This was clearly a case of the 'name above the door' denigrating their brand and customers. Do look it up; it's become a legendary marketing faux pas.

Consumers who believe its important for their brand to take a stand

Mike Lindell has taken it one step further. He is Mister "My Pillow." He used to be stocked by every big box store that mattered. I have no knowledge of why Mike Lindell decided to be so vocal about the alleged election fraud, but here's the deal; My Pillow was hugely successful because it had an enormous market share. While it is normal for American companies to support political candidates, it is not normal for them to march into the Oval Office with plans to change key players in the regime. The fact is, as with many US elections, the difference in votes between the two parties was not that great. To put it into perspective, if you have a retail product and choose to visibly side with one party, you risk dividing your customer base. Many retailers now dropping My Pillow is a clear example.

The negative effect of negative association with your brand

Companies may privately prefer one candidate or party over another, but this is business. You still want to sell to everyone. Goya Foods is a great example. They sell essential food products that are needed in every American household. They want to sell to everyone. When the CEO went on a Trump rampage, the board shut him down. Why? Because half the country didn't vote for Trump, and they thought it wasn't a great idea to alienate 150+ million customers! To be fair, I am surmising, but I would be amazed if I am wrong. There was no business benefit to being so vocally supportive of either candidate. Presidents come and go; governments are left and right-leaning and change regularly. You want your business to be still be growing in 5/10/15/20 years.

When consumers want their brand to stand on public issues

In summary, no business should hang its hat on the non-business, non-brand aligned beliefs of its 'face.' By all means, be a Jamie Oliver and support causes that align with your business! If you are a chef, then advocate for sustainably sourced fish, but don't stray outside anything your customers wouldn't expect. If Mike Lindell wants to be a politician, by all means, go for it! But don't drag your business behind you. It's a good few years since I studied marketing at university, but I am pretty sure that there's a difference between marketing to a niche market, where you know you have a limited market size, and having a product that could potentially appeal to every household in America, then giving the finger to half those potential customers, not to mention getting dropped by many of the leading retailers because of your beliefs.

Why consumers want brands to take a stand on social media

In a more straightforward example, I look at the baker who won't bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Why the hell not? Are you running a business where you want to maximize sales and profits, or do you want to be a cottage industry? If it's a product you sell, don't refuse to sell it because you don't particularly like the customer. More importantly, don't take a political stance. A business is in the business of making a profit. The PR threats are real. I don't care which side of the political line you stand. The fact is that for a mass-market product, you are risk cutting your potential market in half (and that's assuming that ALL Republicans would keep buying from a conspiracy theorist like Mike Lindell.)

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Julian Beynon

About the author

Julian Beynon (celebrityconsultant@gmail.com) is a consultant specializing in helping organizations maximize the value of celebrity support, whether they're influencers, artists, or athletes.

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