This week luxury brand Christian Dior fired star designer John Galliano for making anti-Semitic comments. The incident provides some important lessons about managing a brand in today’s fast moving media world.
Lesson 1: It is very easy to damage a brand.
An apparently drunk Mr. Galliano said some highly inappropriate things while out one evening. The comments were captured on video and it is now quickly spreading around the internet. The video does not do good things for the Galliano brand. He is now out of a job and his personal brand will be forever tainted.
Lesson 2: Brand leaders need to move quickly to deal with issues.
You have to give Dior credit for quickly responding to the issue. The video became public on Monday and on Tuesday Christian Dior fired Galliano. This fast response limits the damage to the Dior brand; it is clear that Dior doesn’t approve of his comments.
You can read the Dior press release here (in French):
Lesson 3: It is important to get ahead of the story.
Yesterday Women’s Wear Daily reported that Natalie Portman issued a statement condemning Galliano:
“I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments that surfaced today,” stated Portman. “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way. I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”
Portman is a spokesperson for Dior. By quickly condemning Galliano she clearly distances herself from the issue and enhances her brand.
All of this highlights the importance of understanding the values behind a brand. When faced with fast-moving situations, brands with clear values can respond quickly and limit the damage.
Always a risk when a personality is so closely linked with a brand. The time and/or money to bring a personality on board can be quickly wasted if they are not reliable. I anticipate that with growing media exposure from more varied channels that many brands will focus on their promises and delivery to get the competitive advantage and leave personalities out of the equation.
Is it possible the same lessons can be applicable in B2B space? Companies try to tell their customers what their brand stands for, yet I feel what the customer will remember about them is how they respond in a time of crisis (for the customer). The perception of the character of the brand in the (B2B) customers mind is impacted by how the crisis is handled. Character is what we do, not (just) what we say. Are there any B2B examples that show how branding is impacted by a crisis?
A good question! The risk to a brand is highest when the brand is closely linked to particular person. An Exxon employee might act in a foolish way, but this probably wouldn’t impact the brand because Exxon isn’t associated with just one person. Brands like Virgin, Starbucks and Nike are most at risk because they have a very visible brand leader.
My sense is people think Facebook is much more than Zuckerberg, so if he acted inappropriately it would impact the brand but probably not do terrible damage.
This raises an interesting question for Facebook.
What if a drunk Zuckerberg was caught on tape with similar comments (probably not against Jews in his case, but something of the same caliber)?
Would the company’s value crash and burn?
The entire Facebook site could after all be created from scratch by a couple of software engineers in a couple of weeks…
Great post Professor. Indeed, viral videos and other forms of social media pose new brand challenges and one must wonder if the role of Cheif Social Media Officer is actually one that can effectively create strategies to deal with such PR catastrophies.