RSR: Retail’s Cult of Personality – What Happens When Brands and Individuals Get Married?
By Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, Retail Systems
Through a special arrangement,
psented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail
Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis
on emerging issues facing retailers.
Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, has become
a very public crusader against excesses and basically fraudulent behavior
in the short selling market. Not only has he made a case against it, putting
both his reputation – and by extension something of his company’s reputation
– on the line, he used it to predict the market downfall long before anyone
else seemed to be talking about it.
He’s so passionate about it that if you go
to Overstock.com you
will find a link under “Professional Relationships” called Patrick
Byrne and Deep Capture, which links to a
blog that has the in-depth details on the whole short selling thing.
So here’s my question: In a world where it’s
easier than ever to connect the multiple facets of a person’s life together,
and where company executives (who are, it could be argued, brand stewards)
are increasingly making their individual voices heard under the umbrella
of their brand, how do you separate individual quirks and passions from
company and brand values?
It’s probably not so bad a thing – maybe a tad
distracting – when your company CEO decides to take on alleged institutional
or systemic corruption. But what about a company like American Apparel,
whose brand is up there with Calvin Klein when it comes to pushing the
line on using sex to sell clothes, and whose CEO has been
accused of “living the dream” perhaps a
little too far on the wrong side of that line? Perhaps it doesn’t matter
much to AA’s core customers, who are not exactly MSNBC’s target audience,
but could you imagine the backlash that would occur if it was, say, Chico’s
CEO, and not American Apparel?
Is Patrick Byrne synonymous with Overstock.com? Perhaps
in business circles, but I doubt it in consumer circles. Is Dov
Charney synonymous with American Apparel? Personally, I had to look
up his name to include it here. But what about Richard Branson and
Virgin, or Steve Jobs and Apple? In each of these examples, it gets
more and more difficult to separate where one begins and another ends.
So where does all this take us? Into a new
place. It’s not a comfortable one for me, and I think RSR has much less
to worry about than, say, American Apparel. Will the day come when a company
or campaign is taken down by the social networking antics of one of its
executives? I believe we will indeed see a day like that in our future,
and I think it will be a scary day for brands everywhere.
In the age of social networking mania, should corporations insist
that their execs be more careful about how their personal lives and beliefs
affect their brand’s positioning? Is it going to be possible for a corporate
leader, then, to stand up for a cause?
- Retail’s Cult of Personality: What Happens
when Brands and Individuals Get Married? – Retail