The Brand Must Go On
When the product name is based on its founder's name, brand longevity is inexplicably tied to the vitality of the founder. As Ferris State University professor and The Callahan Group Partner Susan K. Jones notes, stock analysts fret over the value to assign to these kinds of companies. If the artist Thomas Kinkaid gets run over by a bus, she asks, how will his company be perceived without him?
Well, Martha Stewart may feel like she's been run over a bus, but the brand crisis in this instance is taking place while she's fighting for her public image. Up until the early summer of 2002, Stewartwhose Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO) publishes Martha Stewart Living magazine, various books, a television show, a radio program, a catalog and a Web siteshowed up in every direct marketing promotion.
After the news broke in June of her questionable stock trade of ImClone shares, bringing her incredible public and legal scrutiny, the only mailings the Archive received from MSO for the remainder of the year were control efforts for two of her books; both continued to hold up Stewart as the brand icon. Jones hypothesizes that the MSO camp probably needed time to assess the damage. According to a recent Associated Press report, MSO posted a loss for fourth-quarter 2002, its first ever since going public in 1999. But there are some silver linings: Merchandising revenues and magazine advertising revenues are up.
The other garden clog fell in the first two months of 2003. Particularly noticeable was the absence of the doyenne of gentrified living in a creative test for Martha Stewart Living magazine received by the Archive in January (203MASTLI0103). Not only was Stewart's no-show a departure from prior efforts, but the company elevated the size of the control bookalog format from 5" x 7-1/2" to slim-jim status (6" x 10-1/2").
While prior efforts balanced the focus between Stewart the icon and the editorial content of the publication, this test redirects the emphasis to the end result that readers want: the addition of simple refinement to the way they live. A two-page spreadwhich precedes the following 11 spreads that are devoted to different benefits of the magazinemost clearly lays out the new tone. Gone is the "I" and "my" copy that linked Stewart with the editorial content in previous direct mail efforts. It's now replaced with "we" and "our" statements. The most telling example that the MSO organization is testing out a restructured brand identity is found in the spread's deck copy: "When we started Living 12 years ago, it was easier than you might think. We thought of the things that really matter, and just went from there." While staff and guests were briefly acknowledged in earlier promotions, the origin of the magazine was never presented as a group idea or effort.
Another example is that the magazine's editor in chief, Margaret Roach, signs the five-page letter that kicks off the bookalog; she uses lots of "we" copy. In most efforts, Stewart has signed the letterthe prior editor in chief, Stephen Drucker, signed only a lift letter for a continuity program promotion.
To make this a straight creative test, the offer is kept exactly the same: a one-year subscription for $28, including a totebag premium for payment and a Fast 50 contest for a cake decorating kit.
Overall, the test package displays a deft hand at toning down the Stewart brand, while highlighting the benefits that have always been stressed in MSO mailings. As for whether you need Stewart to lend credibility to the message, the proof will be in the pudding.