Lisa Merriam

When a Brand is a Person–Personal Brand Considerations

Business has long been enlivened by vivid and powerful brands inextricably tied to real people. Such brands enjoy unusual benefits, but also face risks. Real people do good things as well as bad; they make good decisions but also devastating mistakes. Thus brands tied to people rise and fall with the fortunes of the people behind them.



Some examples:

  • Martha Stewart’s insider trading and jail time tarnished all of the Martha Stewart properties
  • Dave Thomas’s death left Wendy’s without an ad strategy
  • The Steve Madden securities fraud indictment caused NASDAQ to halt trading on the stock to prevent its freefall
  • The queen no longer stands guard at the Helmsley Palace—not since Leona ran afoul of the tax laws
  • The Hilfiger brand faded as the Tommy’s hip-hop persona was eclipsed by the genuine street personality of P Diddy’s Sean Jean line of clothing
  • OJ Simpson, long-time Hertz pitchman, will forever tie that brand to freeway chases
  • Oprah’s active partisanship has turned off significant audience segments

Brands backed by strong personalities enjoy real strengths. Virgin flourishes from the “Cool Brittannia” lifestyle of CEO Richard Branson. Donald Trump glitzes up otherwise pedestrian real estate investments. These people brought their brands quite literally to life as persuasive pitchmen, creating value by attracting attention and helping their brands to stand out.

How can brands tied to people avoid the pitfalls and prosper?

  1. Iconize the personality. The easy chic of Chanel no longer springs directly from the hands of Coco Chanel, but rather from the essence of her spirit. Though Miss Chanel has been dead for decades, her brand is timeless.
  2. Plan for succession. Frank Perdue has passed the job of being the tough man behind a tender chicken to his son
  3. Diversify. While building on the strength of a personality, it makes sense to add additional attributes that will carry the brand beyond
  4. Pray. Pray that the person behind the brand doesn’t do anything stupid, illegal, or scandalous.