Good Brand, Bad Brand, Dead Brand


In psychoanalysis they call it “splitting.” And public figures suffer
terribly from it.

Instead of seeing people as complicated – marble-cake swirls of good
and bad – we insist that they either be heroes or the opposite.

This is visible in nearly every sphere of celebrity, from Hollywood to
Washington and in the plush hallways of Wall Street. You’re either a
“genius” or an “idiot,” with nothing in between.

Why do we do that?

The Freudians say it’s from a wound caused in infancy and early
childhood. When the baby, confronted with a mother who is sometimes
available and sometimes not, imagines that she is actually two people:
one an evil witch, and the other an all-giving heroine.

Healthy people know that it is the same mother who both gives and fails to give.

People who aren’t functioning as well can’t know that.

So they put her, and other people, in categories.

Not only that – they actually look for people to idolize, and then
look forward surreptitiously to the time that they will fall. This is
“repetition compulsion” – the desire to relive the original wound over
and over again, hoping that it will turn out differently.

Do we not see this dynamic happen every single day with the people we
call leaders? And celebrities?

It is almost as if the paparazzi look for new stars and actively build
them up – then watch and wait until they crash. No actually they
really do that.

Former child stars suffer from this especially badly. Former
Mouseketeer Britney Spears is a great example. So is “Parent Trap”
star Lindsay Lohan. Sad.

Some people refuse to put celebrities into a box. Michael Lear wrote
an amazing profile about Charlie Sheen that is running in the new
Vanity Fair. Sheen emerges as complex and interesting and human. No
false castles of glass being shattered here.

But – as they say – who cares?

This is not a diatribe about childcare.

Nor another post about how to prop a leader up or save them from themselves.

No – this time it’s about product and service brands themselves. I say
“them” because unfortunately for the companies that make them,
customers perceive these things almost exactly as if they were people.
Celebrities, more specifically.

So the same customers who so insistently “split” the leaders they
adore and hate - led to do so by a media that caters to this very
“repetition compulsion” – may spend a lot of money on a brand today,
only to be completely turned off by it tomorrow. And I mean

The same fervent wish to idolize someone that built the brand up, also
can bring it down.

And the crash can be caused by anything. The media, of course, fanning
the flames of a scandal, mini or micro. A disaster. A competitor. A
new emerging brand. And the social media whispers of the crowd – or no
whispers at all.

(Because more than anything else, people are influenced by what other
people in their social circles do.)

What that means for brand producers is very simple: “Get paranoid.”
(to paraphrase Intel’s Andy Grove)

You should always look at your brand as if it were in imminent danger.

Even more than that – you must actively kill the brand yourself.

Anticipate the cycle that is coming – they will love you and then hate
you and stone you to death – and immolate your brand on its own sword

Then come up with a new one.

That way you stay in control of what’s going on. (Theoretically – as
much as possible.)

It’s a tough brandscape out there these days, but the smartest
companies are undaunted.

Get out there, kick your OWN butt, and start over again.

Good luck!


Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, and, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.