050 MEDIA & ADVERTISING FACE OF THE BRAND
David Warwick is director of Melbourne design and brand agency
Smart Works and head of strategy for digital agency Komosion. David
is also chair of Content Management Professionals in Australia,
email@example.com, Twitter: @drwarwick.
David Warwick explains the risks and rewards of branding a corporate ﬁgurehead.
H “ The market
arpo is more than Oprah personiﬁes Bonds, Magda Szubanski launched
spelt backwards. Harpo is a Jetstar and provides a human face for Jenny
corporate success story, with reality, for better or Craig and Shane Warne will always be
turnover exceeding US$300
million and employing more
worse, is that these remembered for Advanced Hair and his part
in an ill-fated Quit Smoking campaign.
than 400 staff (as of 2007). The Harpo brand corporate brands are Brands are, after all, a mental synopsis
and the public persona of Oprah Winfrey are
almost inseparable – like the wordplay, they
personalised by their not dissimilar in operation to stereotypes
or theoretical models, all ﬁltering down
mirror each other.
The Oprah/Harpo nexus is far from
unique. Many other corporations are strongly
identiﬁable through the personal brand of
their doyen. Understanding this duality is
On the next rung are corporations with pow-
erful charismatic leadership, corporate and
complexity to convenient shorthand. The best
brands are memorable, simple, longlasting,
shared and, of course, personally accessible.
If humans understand anything, it is other
humans. The act of attributing human form or
even more important in the digital age of personal brands that while not inseparable qualities to non-human entities is well-studied
connection and more of us are experiencing are heavily intertwined. The names Bill Gates, in the humanities and clearly demonstrated
a morphing of our personal and corporate Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch and in cultural mythology. We want to think of
brand. Richard Pratt trigger neural pathways for most organisations and products in human terms
of us that include Microsoft, Apple, Berkshire and what easier way to do this than by identi-
CORPORATE FIGUREHEAD BRAND Hathaway, News Corp and Visy respectively. fying directly with another human being?
LANDSCAPE The market reality, for better or worse, is that Microsoft is looking to Jerry Seinfeld to
Other ﬂagships in the class of ﬁgurehead these corporate brands are personalised by their lift its corporate persona in response to the
brands include Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, moguls. Our business news is all the more pow- success of the ‘I’m a PC Guy’ ads by Apple.
growing since the ’70s, and Martha Stewart erful and accessible for its humanisation. Less savoury or in vogue organisations
with her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, turn to philanthropy, hoping to present the
which survived the highly publicised trial, WHY CORPORATE BRAND company as caring and community-minded
conviction and short incarceration of its PERSONALISATION? through brand association. Thankfully this
founder for lying and obstructing justice. It comes as no surprise that both the dynamic works, otherwise benevolent fund-
In Australia, Dick Smith (the company) has individual and corporation can easily adopt ing may be mortally wounded. Personally,
spent 29 years, since its purchase by Wool- a conjoined model, complete with its inbuilt I am gratiﬁed that Hyundai sees a positive
worths, moving beyond its founder’s legacy efﬁciency. A stock in trade for advertising is brand beneﬁt from sponsoring the Carlton
and personal brand union. the personalisation of brands – Pat Rafter AFL club.
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FACE OF THE BRAND MEDIA & ADVERTISING 051
A BRAND SHARED
Positive humanising of a corporate brand
is no doubt beneﬁcial. The application of
human traits is taken to one level by adver-
tising, another by powerful and charismatic
leadership and further again in the case of our
inseparable conjoined twins. Like conjoined
twins, the separation of personal and corpo-
rate brands can be painful and even terminal.
When Martha Stewart went to trial, the
press asked whether the corporate entity could
survive. The business did survive, but was
heavily impacted by the fall from grace of its
human brand repository. Leaving aside align-
ment and credibility, it is an unfortunate truth
that a person and a corporation have different
temporal paths – put simply, we die, we age
and we have changing needs.
The Disney empire suffered severely
after Walt Disney died in 1966. Some brands
are better aligned to particular demograph-
ics and it may become increasingly difﬁcult
for Sir Richard Branson to epitomise youth,
adventure and a sense of anti-establishment
thinking as time marches on. The question of interconnection and constructed, turns out to be equally
Sometimes it is simply about change – dependency between corporate and personal manufactured or misaligned.
Dick Smith’s departure from the company brands should at least be a matter for The proliferation of digital social media
bearing his name was problematic for both. consideration in the development of and the corresponding fragmentation of
Three decades later the company has been corporate and marketing strategy. audience are driving organisations to ﬁnd
able to re-personalise the brand around the Some businesses have tried by design other vehicles for their message and, at
idea of technical expertise with a ‘Talk to the or accident to manufacture a hybrid. Max the same time, consumers are looking for
Techxperts’ campaign. For Apple and Pixar, Brenner Chocolate is growing internation- increasing richness and appropriateness of
there is the question of Steve Jobs’ poor health ally and has a strong personalised brand. Max material across all channels. Broadcast style
and, regardless of his recovery, a corporate life Brenner, however, is really Oded Brenner and content does not ﬁt well within the social
without his involvement. Max Fichtman. The latter is no longer involved media space and other active online channels.
Whether the issues are addressed now or and, perhaps luckily, it is Brenner that has the The operational temptation is to promote
in the future, each of these companies with physical resemblance to the company’s illus- the ﬁgurehead as the corporate social voice,
the innate expectation of remaining a ‘going trated brand. Although this is not an extreme highlighting the issue of crossover personal
concern’ will face a period of transition. case or hidden corporate knowledge, it does and corporate branding. In this environment,
In the most severe cases, organisations not beg the question: how does a synthetic person two issues sit in counterpoint, the ﬁrst is scale
prepared for the departure of their celebrity make a public appearance in support of the and the second is authenticity.
crutch may experience what amounts to a corporate brand when they don’t in fact exist? Organisations ‘burst the social bubble’
brand vacuum. the moment consumers realise the message
AUTHENTICITY DEMANDED is not authentic. For a corporation, the
PERSONALITY BRANDING IN YOUR When Shane Warne tells us, “Advanced Hair, reward arrives from scale-based delivery,
BUSINESS yeah, yeah!”, we know we are being manipu- something that makes authentic person-to-
Whole industries display a crossover between lated. On one level, we accept the subterfuge person communication problematic. The
corporate and personal branding. Advertising of celebrity endorsement because it ﬁts within answer may not be the same in all situations;
agencies, legal practitioners and all manner one of the established norms of broadcast however, many authentic voices representing
of professional consultancies ﬁnd it both communication. the organisation, within a clear engagement
convenient and natural to build their brand In the broadcast world, we may aspire, model, may work more effectively and be far
around their founder, partners or public identify or empathise, always accepting that superior to building a celebrity leader who
leaders. In many respects, this is easier than some ﬁction is part of the cut-through. We are can never deal directly with the issue of scale.
using a brand name devoid of immediate signiﬁcantly less forgiving when a corporate Customers and staff speaking for the
personal connection. ﬁgurehead, held out as authentic and self- organisation? What a brave new world. M
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