Monday, January 30, 2006

Trumping Truth

I don’t know how much more punditry about A Million Little Pieces you can stand.

Two articles in The New York Times, by Michiko Kakutani (here) and David Carr (here) cover the newly discovered swamp underneath the James Frey book and Oprah Winfrey with reasonable thoroughness – although, as usual, Kakutani manages to squeeze the Bush White House into her musings about the “truth.”

Carr’s article, “How Oprahness Trumped Truthiness,” is more on point (for Signalwriter). It addresses the marketing of the Oprah brand. That makes it worth reading for us advertising types…one more cautionary tale in a real long line.

The baseline is the responsibility that brands bear in regards to their consumers. Oprah is, in this case, protecting her brand…although she simultaneously trashed the publisher of Frey’s book. By all accounts, Oprah has won – again. (Let’s not talk about the Texas cattlemen who sued her – what were they thinking?)

What I think it all demonstrates is that strong brands have ethical responsibilities to their stakeholders and their customers, unlike the technique illustrated by that ancient Texas joke about politicians being like longhorn steers: “A point here and a point there – and a lot of bull in between.”

In part, Oprah is much more effective than other corporate brands – especially Martha Stewart – because she has in fact done so much that is good. And she can use her media platforms as a force for redress (bully pulpit?) that most other brands can’t match, no matter how much they spend in advertising.

This doesn’t relieve corporate brands of responsibility. Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.

No bull.

© Photographer: Winthrop Brookhouse Agency:

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