The Pitfalls of Tying a Brand to One Person

The Pitfalls of Tying a Brand to One Person

Companies should think twice about too closely tying their brands to specific people.

Once upon a time, a FrogDog client positioned an executive as a thought leader in its industry. It used the executive’s image in advertising, arranged speaking engagements for him, and otherwise established him as the face of the company.

Then he took another job.

In other cases, the company founder’s charisma naturally connects him to the brand—even if not intentionally. (For more about brand promises, click here.) Take Richard Branson. His leadership style and energy made Virgin an extension of his personality.

So what happens when Richard Branson moves on?

Should companies put all their bread in single baskets?

Apple vs. Microsoft

With the passing of Steve Jobs, how will Apple fare? The current management team appears to have good control. Yet Apple hit a rough patch in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when Jobs left. The company’s earnings and stock price steadily declined. And when his health issues hit the limelight in 2009, the investor community reacted very negatively.

In contrast, Bill Gates built and then ran Microsoft for years. Early in his career, Gates made it known that Microsoft was about far more than him and that he would not remain the CEO forever. Since Gates stepped down, the company has continued to grow.

Penn State and Livestrong

Even the biggest personalities have people behind them. Humans make mistakes.

Penn State students, alumni, and most of the population of State College, Pennsylvania, put Joe Paterno on a pedestal. The university used him as the face of the school. Then his world and Penn State’s reputation crumbled when it was discovered that he had knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s despicable acts and did not do enough to bring him to justice. The school faced numerous law suits from the families of the victims and applications for admission dropped 12.7 percent. The school still works on image control.

Lance Armstrong’s success and reputation built The Livestrong Foundation. When he admitted to cheating and bullying in 2013, the Livestrong Foundation took a big hit in the public opinion. Kansas City’s major league soccer team, Sporting KC, dropped the Livestrong name from its stadium just days after his admission. Even news sources and a number of bloggers have taken to the Web to discuss what to do with their yellow Livestrong bracelets now that Lance’s image is tarnished.

The Verdict?

In some cases, using a company executive as a brand centerpiece makes sense. Sometimes, when it comes to founders, it’s inevitable.

Many times, companies move forward without a hiccup when their brand’s human face departs. To this day, Kentucky Fried Chicken uses founder Harland Sanders’s image and continues to talk about the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices.

However, marketers need to understand the inherent issues in tying brands to employees and should develop contingency plans in case the person departs or encounters negative publicity. Failing to do so can significantly damage their companies.

Looking for help with branding for your company? FrogDog to the rescue!

"Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/".

Posted: Feb 18, 2013
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
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