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The Value of Trust in a Brand

January 19th, 2013

A Celebrity Brand is TarnishedIt’s always a bizarre irony whenever we see two stories in the same week that are so closely aligned as the doping scandal that ensnared Lance Armstrong and the strange twists in the Manti Te’o fictitious girlfriend tale. Both are elite athletes; both have had their credibility affected through allegations that they were dishonest. It made me wonder how much the idea of trust weighs into the valuation of any brand.

Tiger Woods found out the hard way a few years ago. In some cases, especially where a celebrity athlete, politician or entertainer is involved, I would think that the estimated value of the brand is heavily aligned with a solid measure of credibility and trust. Those successful brand images, after all, are built upon the allegiance of a fan base that support and trust the behaviors and actions of their iconic idols.

Ask Pete Rose. In 1989, three years after retiring, he agreed to a permanent ineligibility from baseball and ultimately, a ban from the Hall of Fame because of allegations that he gambled on games. (The real issue was the idea that he may have gambled on games he actually played in.)

It’s not like a branded product, which doesn’t rely on the same type of trust. Flawed human character — especially when it is revealed in a star brand that we worship — is far more damaging than the public realization of a tainted food product, for example. For that matter, we could even compare product brands to celebrity brands and also consider organizational brands. AIG did more than a little dance after the U.S. Federal government and taxpayers provided a bailout.

Manti Te’o is dancing a little also these days, and I’m sure that the University of Notre Dame is fully aware of its own brand risk, considering that the two names are inextricably connected. Te’o was interviewed by ESPN on Friday and maintained his innocence in the whole saga of a girlfriend that didn’t exist — although he did admit that he had finessed the notion of whether the two had ever met in person.

So much has been written about Lance Armstrong that it’s difficult to add much else. In his case, it wasn’t one little white lie, but a clear revelation that he has defiantly lied for years, even dismissed the intelligence of his base of supporting fans. Ouch. That one’s going to leave a mark and while the story and public disdain will certainly dissipate, I’m not sure that even a few years will completely mend his brand or fade the stench of his actions. His reputation was once “resilience” — now it is an entrenched image of arrogance and deception. It took a dozen or more years of competition at the highest level to build the brand of “Lance Armstrong” and related brands like his private foundation, LiveStrong.org. It took less than a year to watch the whole value of his brand become nil.

Armstrong’s legacy might very well take the same path as Shoeless Joe Jackson or O.J. Simpson. History books are riddled with examples of celebrity brands in freefall, from Bill Clinton’s indiscretions to Michael Jackson’s legal battles against allegations of child abuse. Some memories of “trust betrayed” heal over time, some last forever. Indeed, the tarnish of the brand and legend sometimes continue to grow, even after the relevance of the brand is gone.

Read More: ‘Moral Decoupling:’ How Consumers Justify Supporting a Tarnished Brand

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This entry was posted on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 at 3:38 pm and is filed under Advertising, Brand Identity, Business, Customer Experience, Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

DWAYNE FLINCHUM
Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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