By Gregg Lipman:
By now, just about everyone in the Western world (or at least those reached by TMZ) knows about the John Galliano scandal of early March. As one who is Jewish (and just as a human being), I was outraged by his anti-Semitic rants in a Paris restaurant. But as a brand person, I also thought: “No John Galliano at Dior? He is Dior!”
The trend of chief creative officer or CEO as brand ambassador has been going on for a while now. In fact, several of these individuals have such a hand in the shaping of the brand that their names are virtually synonymous with the brand. Whereas the head of a company used to remain somewhat anonymous, today’s brand gatekeepers are front-and-center. They even go so far as reaching out directly to customers — through corporate communications, blogs and tweets — to forge relationships.
Take Millard “Mickey” Drexler, for example. As the head of J. Crew, he and his Executive Creative Director, Jenna Lyons, have turned the company around, making it a brand worthy of a $3 billion buyout. Last time my wife bought something online from the brand, she got a “personal” note from Mickey, printed on thick cardstock, reassuring her of J. Crew’s high standards of quality. And then a few weeks later, she received a similar note from the CEO of Garnet Hill, in yet another attempt to foster return sales.
JetBlue CEO David Barger has been known to mingle with fellow passengers on his flight, introducing himself and greeting them as they disembark the plane. Reed Krakoff, who as chief creative officer of Coach, has turned that brand around in the last decade and has garnered such a fan base that he recently launched his own, eponymous, non-Coach brand (seen on no less than Michelle Obama). And the gregarious Tony Hsieh of Zappos is gunning for brand ambassadorship through his bestselling book, Delivering Happiness, a freshly launched consulting firm of the same name and a Twitter account featuring both personal and professional tidbits.
But it’s not always a positive for a brand to be so strongly associated with the person running the show. Seemingly bulletproof brand Apple has had to figure out the best way to cope with the health issues of its brand ambassador, CEO and co-founder, Steve Jobs. As Jobs’ appearance has worsened and he has taken several prolonged leaves-of-absence (the most recent one being this past January), many investors have worried about what might happen if Apple lost its visionary and first-in-command. In light of this, Apple has appointed Tim Cook as acting CEO, and he has started to appear at more public events, such as the launch of iPad 2 in early March.
I bet Dior wishes that Galliano had a well-known second-in-command. Instead, the label made the brilliant decision to bring the designer’s seamstresses right onto the runway after the most recent (and last Galliano) collection for the fashion house. This salute to craftsmanship proved the lesson that Apple already knows: at the end of the day, no matter what the circumstances, the show must go on.