May 222017

Democrats favored firing Comey before they were against it. Republicans scurried to avoid taking a position. The White House was leaking in torrents. Washington insiders roiled the swamp with eddies of spin. The press hyperventilated in major scandal mode. But what did regular Americans make of it all?

Not so much, it turns out. Data from military-grade social listening algorithms and analytics show that outside the media echo chamber, the Comey story subsided quickly. Opinions were generally neutral and concluded that Comey had to go.

SC2, a company with roots in the special operations community, adapts technology developed to track enemy conversations for civilian market research purposes. Pouring over 17 million global social media sites, the technology uncovers trends in interest and sentiment. Army Colonel Robert Guidry who founded SC2 after serving as a chief technology officer and a senior strategist for Special Operations said: “SC2’s mission is to get beyond the media hype and analyze what everyday citizens are saying to each other. It’s often very different from what is being reported in the media.” And regarding the firing Comey story, indeed it is.

Reactions More Moderate than News Coverage

Conversations about firing Comey spiked the morning after the story first broke. While stories in the press were largely negative, public reaction was measured. In the first hours, conversations about Comey’s ouster were 49% neutral, 30% negative, and 21% positive. By Sunday morning, 60% of conversations expressed neutral views, with a near even split between negative and positive sentiments.

The majority of Comey-centered conversations referenced another topic, such as Clinton’s email server, Congress, and calls for an independent prosecutor. Of these combined conversations, most were about Comey and Trump, followed by Comey and Clinton. In both cases, over a third of comments were negative towards Comey, suggesting people across the political spectrum hold Comey in low regard. The Russian investigation was barely a blip.

firing comey opinion

Washingtonians Are More Critical of Trump Firing Comey

Looking at the same data by media outlet, we find expressed attitudes breaking out in surprising ways. Over half of CNN and Fox viewers voiced negative thoughts of the whole Comey situation—likely for different reasons. The Washington Post’s inside the Beltway readership voiced 70 to 80% negative views regarding firing Comey. Clearly, denizens of what Trump calls “the swamp” were not happy. For New York Times readers, the statistics flip, being far more favorable to Comey hearing the words: “You’re fired.”

firing comey by mediaA Story without Legs

News coverage continued wall-to-wall for days, reporting a scandal on par with Watergate. Yet a day after the news of firing Comey broke, public conversations about it were down by a third. By the May 14 Sunday morning talk shows, interest dropped by another third. Opinions  settled in the neutral zone. And there was good news for Hillary: Interest in her email servers also evaporated.

In the End, Opinion Was: Comey Deserved It

The algorithms give researchers the ability to study specific viewpoints across a spectrum of beliefs. What is interesting about the national conversation about Comey being fired is the content of the conversations. Most agreed with Trump that Comey should be fired, with Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation cited as the most discussed reason Comey had to “face the music.” The Russia election issue appeared in a small minority of the conversations.

comey deserved it

A screenshot of raw data shows the snippets of commentary around Comey’s firing.

conversations firing comey

Despite the media fixation on Russia, cover-ups, special prosecutors, and White House ineptitude, the American public was ready to move on. Some 70% of conversations reference firing Comey as deserved and necessary, even among people who claim that Trump was wrong in doing it. All scandal aside, Americans believe Comey had it coming.

But what a difference a week makes! With new revelations, has American interest in the scandal increased? Has American opinion shifted on Comey? Do Americans now think impeachment is warranted? Time for another look into the data.

Dec 232016

NBC News interviewed me about the trolling of the Ivanka Trump brand. Seems like “fake reviews” are joining “fake news” as a thing. The consumer is savvy enough to tell the difference.

As I told NBC, the trolling of all Trump brands is likely to continue as a dissatisfied segment of the electorate works out its issues, from marching in front of the Trump buildings here on the Upper West Side of New York to writing snarky reviews on Amazon. These people in the “bucket of disaffecteds” have few other easy avenues for venting their frustrations. Trolling is an easy way to express unhappiness without effort or risk–but also without much impact.

Trolling Ivanka Trump Brand Ineffectual

The effect of Trump trolling on the brand is negligible. People who buy the Trump brand like the Trump image or the product behind it. Trolls don’t impact that. People who despise Trump will continue to shun the Trump brand. Given the massive level of Trump publicity, consumers are already predisposed to like or dislike. They aren’t going to Amazon reviews to form those opinions. Trolling isn’t going to sway a consumer one way or the other. It has zero marketing impact. Trump brand managers can ignore the phenomenon.

For other brands subject to trolling, finding out what is driving trolls and who is doing the trolling is an important first step. Responding with a calm, measured, fact-infused way puts your side of the story out there. Consumers are savvy. They can spot fake reviews as easily as they can spot fake news. Beyond making sure the consumer has access to the facts, let the trolls troll on. They are frustrated people precisely because their trolling has little impact. Don’t feed that beast.

Aug 092016

Renaming Yale: An Orwellian committee in the “Ministry of Truth” model at Yale is hard at work scrubbing historical names from the campus, according to Roger Kimball in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The article The College Formerly Known as Yale, details how Yale University is creating a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming (Wow! So 1984!). The Snowflake Generation is suddenly in a snit over Calhoun College because of namesake John C. Calhoun supported the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, Yale founder Elihu Yale was himself an active slave trader.

Renaming Yale UniversitySlavery will always remain a national disgrace of this country, but to expunge the names of its supporters from history misses the opportunity for a “teaching moment.” These names are an invitation to examine social, moral and economic forces that fueled it. Studying Calhoun, Yale (maybe even Jefferson and Lee), we can better understand the foundation for slavery, to better fight racism and bigotry, to continue to build the ethic of valuing human life, from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter, and to celebrate society’s progress, however partial and imperfect. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Those who seek to replace history for their own edited set of facts are tyrants.

Commercial brands tied to people know the risk of connecting a person to a product–think Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong. People are imperfect. Renaming Yale won’t change that. History is a tale of human imperfection. If institutions may only be named after perfect people, we won’t be able to name anything after a person. For Yale, with the motto of “Light and Truth” to contemplate blotting out uncomfortable facts is very sad. Perhaps the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming at Yale should rename Calhoun College “Room 101.”

More on political aspects of naming:
Brands as Political Symbols
ISIS Tainted Brand
“Net Neutrality” Doublespeak
Redskins Team Name
Renaming Operation Iraqi Freedom

Jul 192016

Zika • Recession • Security • Doping Scandals • Brazilian Politics & Public Apathy

I will be on the panel of the Marketing Executives Networking Group’s panel discussion on the marketing challenges of the Rio Olympic Games

RSVP by Thursday, JULY  28, noon at 
Photo I.D. required for building entry.

Many issues are plaguing the Rio Olympic Games, which commence August 5th.  The stakes are high – this is South America’s first Olympics – but problems still loom large.  Rio is even canceling school because it doesn’t have a solution for the traffic.  “No question, the country is facing the ‘perfect storm,'” noted former International Olympic Committee Marketing Director Michael Payne.  Additionally, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced updated Rule 40 guidelines limiting branding of athletes, coaches, trainers and officials to prevent over-commercialization of the Olympic Games among other goals.

What’s a marketer to do? 

MENG member and Sports Marketer, Scott Lange, will lead a lively panel discussion on the Olympic Games, covering both issues specific to Rio and perennial Olympics questions such as the value proposition of sponsorship and media coverage.  Joining him are sports marketing and media experts, Ray Katz, who worked for the NFL, other major leagues and sports agencies; former head of programming for CBS Sports Jay Rosenstein, who started his career at Time Magazine reporting Olympics cover stories; and Lisa Merriam, who worked on sponsorships at the Torino, Beijing, and London Olympic Games.  Together, they will cover topics such as

What do Olympics sponsors actually receive when they invest in the Olympic Games?

What’s the best way to maximize ROI?

What makes the Olympics so important for media, corporate sponsors, fans, athletes, and participating countries?

What happens when non-sponsors use guerilla tactics to borrow interest in the Olympics?

…and other salient topics…

Our August 1st meeting is extra special because it will be our last with our generous, long-time host, Lee Hecht Harrison.  So come join us for our final party at 230 Park Avenue.

WHEN:        Monday, August 1, 5:30 – 8:00 PM (just 4 days before the Rio Games open!)
                        Panel begins at 6:15 PM

WHERE:     Lee, Hecht, Harrison, 230 Park Avenue (Helmsley Building, between 45th and 46th Streets)

FEES:           Members & LHH    $10 until noon July 28, $20 late registration

                       Guests                       $20 until noon July 28, $30 late registration

Refreshments will be served.

RSVP by Thursday, JULY  28, noon at 
Photo I.D. required for building entry.

Scott Lange 
SVP, eTeam Executive Search

Scott built his career promoting and securing marketing partnerships for large scale televised events such as the the New York Road Runners/NYC Marathon®, NYC 2012 Olympic Bid, the Ford NYC Triathlon, and the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational.  His partners and clients have included organizations such as AT&T, Asics,, Cingular, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, GEICO, JPMorgan Chase, Jaguar, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, MINI, Nike, Coca-Cola, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.  As an Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Sport Management, he taught sports marketing and corporate sponsorship for 5 years.  Scott has also been an entrepreneur: a co-founding board member of the Leverage Agency, a sports and branded entertainment marketing agency, and co-founder/President of National College Television, the first ad-supported satellite TV network for college students.

Ray Katz
Managing Partner, Source1 Sports

Ray Katz is a sports business, media, and marketing executive with over 25 years of experience, with leadership roles at the NFL, NY Knicks, and NY Rangers as well as at agencies such as Young and Rubicam, OMD, the Leverage Agency, and Source Communications.  Ray is an expert in evaluating, measurement, analytics, creating/packaging, buying and selling sports sponsorships and media.  In addition to his business career, Ray has been a distinguished professor at the Sports Business Masters level for over 20 years and currently teaches marketing, media, finance and foundations at Columbia University. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and earned his Masters of Business Administration in Finance and Marketing at The Wharton School of Business.

Jay Rosenstein
VP, Headline Media Management

Jay Rosenstein is Vice President, Programming for Headline Media Management, responsible for developing and representing sports and entertainment properties as a seasoned television negotiator. He has had more than 35 years of sports television, marketing and public relations experience, serving 15 years in executive positions at CBS, including seven as VP in charge of programming at CBS Sports. At CBS, Jay was responsible for acquisition, scheduling and administration of all network sports properties including the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Olympic Winter Games. Following CBS, Jay served as SVP, Director of Sports & Events at Cohn & Wolfe, with clients such as Eli Lilly, Xerox, BMW, Guinness and the NHL.  Jay later ran programming for WeMedia Sports, which produced TV and online coverage of the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. He is currently an adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Sport Management, Media and Business.

Lisa Merriam
President, Merriam Associates

Lisa Merriam led the branding initiative for Johnson & Johnson’s sponsorship of the 2006 Torino and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and helped develop their sponsorship brand story.  On the tactical side, she worked with a BMW dealer group to leverage BMW’s performance story at the London 2012 Games.  Currently a brand consultant, Lisa’s background includes agency experience at McCann-Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather, FCB, Mother, Brandworx, Verse Group, and others.  Her volunteer initiatives include the Navy SEAL Museum, Naval Special Warfare Historical Foundation, Moms Who Kick Martial Arts Women Fighting Cancer, and the New York American Marketing Association.


Oct 092015

The Rolling Stone has an interesting analysis of the Hillary brand in the article: “There Is No Real Hillary Clinton.” Making the observation: “People aren’t meant to be relaunched as often as phones,” the article zeroes in on Hillary’s long-term problem with authenticity. Saturday Night Live’s “relatable woman on a couch” comedy sketch is not laughing matter for the campaign. Before voters consider candidates’ stands on the issues, they consider the character of the candidate. Hillary’s truthful and trustworthy numbers have been in a free-fall with no end in sight since the email and foundation funding scandals came out this past spring. Winning brands must be believable.

Hillary Brand Analysis:

Issues aside, the latest (September 10, 2015) Quinnipiac poll shows the Bernie Sanders brand beats the Hillary brand hands down:


More on celebrity brands:

NBC interview discussing Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman

Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong brand

The phenomenon of “Tebowing”

Michael Vick’s comeback

Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods–lessons for celebrity brands

And even more on branding people here

Sep 302015

Ralph-Lauren-BrandRalph Lauren, the last of the “big three” American sportswear designers, is stepping down. First Calvin Klein sold his company in 2002. Then Donna Karan stepped down from designing duties earlier this year. Now Ralph Lauren is turning the reigns to “fast fashion” executive Stefan Larsson. What will happen to the Ralph Lauren brand?

Mr. Larsson made his name turning around Gap’s bargain Old Navy brand and turning H&M into a budget brand phenomenon. What impact will this new leadership mindset have on the Ralph Lauren brand? Will the Ralph Lauren brand take a step down when Mr. Larsson steps up?

The Ralph Lauren brand, as we have noted in the past,  does an amazing job maintaining a luxury image selling $3000 dresses as it moves $10 socks at TJMaxx. The brand portfolio contains a mix of price points from the high end “Purple Label” to those socks in cellophane.

Before announcing his departure, Mr. Lauren had separated out its luxury business under the leadership of Valerie Hermann.

It will be interesting to see where the Ralph Lauren brand evolves next. Under two different executives, will the brand still be able to balance mass retail with luxury or will one side win?

May 082015

Brand loyalty to Hillary Clinton is stumping some commentators. Stephen L. Carter, is a Yale law professor, but he is also a branding savant. His recent Bloomberg View column is a primer on how brands impact loyalty.

brand-loyalty-hillary-pledgeHe explains the theory of trademarks in economic terms: What you are willing to pay for a product is the sum of it price in money plus search costs–what it takes to find and evaluate alternatives–plus risk, the cost of making a bad choice. Brands are known and familiar–reducing the search cost and increasing the price people will pay. This brand premium is the whole goal of branding.

Brand Loyalty Example

“Suppose the consumer has become unhappy with her preferred toothpaste for some reason, or can’t find it on the shelf. Now she has to invest more resources in deciding which one to buy instead. This necessity will have the effect of reducing the price she is willing to pay in money. She not only has to expend resources but also has to be compensated for the risk that she won’t like the new toothpaste as much as the old one,” writes Professor Carter.

Are the search costs of considering GOP contenders just too high? Is the risk of making a mistake worth it? Hillary is a known quantity. The theory of trademarks could drive brand loyalty. If voters are like toothpaste buyers, perhaps voters will “buy” her story.

Feb 112015

Brian-williams-personal-brandBrian Williams personal brand as a trusted news anchor is damaged beyond recovery.

I’ve long been fascinated by “personal brands,” and the power of an individual to create and project a reputation that persuades. While such brands are powerful, they are also uniquely human. When the human fails, the brand can fail, too. In the case of Brian Williams, willful and large lies told over a long period make him utterly untrustworthy and unfit for the news anchor desk. The fact that his lies were gratuitous and self-serving adds insult to injury.

Not every human failing hurts the personal brand equally. Martha Stewart’s incarceration was barely a blip. Her brand was built on her design sensibility, not her financial acumen. An insider trading rap was a blip in the health of her brand. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong had brands based on honesty. When their integrity fell apart, so did their brands.

Brian Williams can certainly redeem himself–but not his anchorman brand. He must take a long look at other rewarding opportunities that life offers. Redeeming himself and redeeming his personal brand are two different things. He won’t get a Michael Vick-style chance to redeem his brand. Vick was able to return to football, but that was because dog fighting (heinous though it is) did not impair his quarterback skills. A journalist cannot be caught lying, as trust is core to the brand.

“Brian’s problem isn’t just journalistic. It’s that he’s undermined his persona as a celebrity journalist. It isn’t just that he misrepresented facts on the ground or told lies about what he’s done; he’s undermined his image. He’s undermined his brand.”–Television news analyst Andrew Tyndall

Sep 162014

Brand sponsorship requires a rush to judgement. Though Adrian Peterson has not been found guilty of a crime, brands can’t afford to serve as a backdrop to the drama of indictments and investigations. Radisson’s brand did literally serve as a backdrop to yesterday’s press conference by Vikings general manger Rick Spielman as he discussed child abuse allegations involving the team’s brightest star. This morning, Radisson announced it was pulling its brand sponsorship.


Brand reputation is too valuable to risk in the innocent until proven guilty dynamic of the court system. While I sincerely hope Mr. Peterson is cleared of charges and is indeed innocent, the brand damage is already done. Radisson did the only thing it could by ended its brand sponsorship.


More on celebrity brands:

NBC interview discussing Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman

Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong brand

The phenomenon of “Tebowing”

Michael Vick’s comeback

Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods–lessons for celebrity brands

And even more on branding people here

Apr 292014

Jonah Goldberg has an excellent analysis of candidate brands in “Jeb, Hillary and the curse of tarnished political brands” published in the Los Angeles Times.

clinton-political-brand jev-bush-elephant-political-brand

It will be interesting to see which old brand from decades past people will choose–the Clinton brand or Bush brand–or is it time for a totally new political brand.

© 2014 Lisa Merriam