If you’re like me, every time you see the Weinstein Company brand on a film, you now flinch.
It’s hard to separate Harvey Weinstein, the man, from Weinstein Co., the brand. While almost 300 people work at the company, the only thought a lot of people have when they see the Weinstein Co. logo now is the person for whom it is named — a person who is also, for many, the living, breathing embodiment of sexual abuse.
When you name a company or brand after a single individual, you stake an awful lot on the reputation of that one person. It is arguably a marketing risk that should be avoided at all costs.
The issue for a brand like Weinstein Co. extends far beyond the response of people watching movies (consumer reaction). It has real-world financial costs that will likely sink the company. For example, if you’re Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, are you really lining up to look at projects affiliated with Weinstein Co. right now? No. Most media companies are running from the brand like hunted deer (not to mention Hollywood agents, actors, producers and directors — participants without whom the company cannot survive).
Plus, as Variety points out regarding the company, “Other problems will involve financing. It seems unlikely that a major investment firm will feel comfortable signing up for another round of backing with Weinstein. There’s not much of a company without him, and right now his brand is toxic.”
Weinstein Co. is not the first brand to fall hard based on the actions of its leader. Companies like Wynn Resorts and The Trump Organization are just a few other recent examples of brands that were dramatically shaken overnight because of a single individual.
By contrast, comparable companies like Sands Resorts and Disney have had scandals exposed about top leadership (Sheldon Adelson and John Lasseter), but the separation between the individual and the brand has allowed them to move on. IKEA’s founder even admitted to being a Nazi in his youth, but the brand continues to thrive globally.
There are two main takeaways from all of this:
1. If you’re naming a new company, avoid family names.
Period. Even if the name recognition of your most well-known affiliated individual would be your brand’s biggest “value” (since people don’t yet know you outside of that), it’s still not worth doing. Despite the social capital of that famous person, you don’t want to tie the entire company to a single person — just in case.
It’s worth noting that there are celebrities and others who heed this advice. For example, John Legend recently launched a wine brand. It’s not branded to John Legend himself, though; instead, it’s called LVE. Even if John Legend were involved in a scandal, it could LVE on.
2. If you have an existing company with a family name, consider rebranding.
Yes, this is a bold assertion. But in the era of instantaneous and far-reaching scandals propagated by Twitter and the rest of the social media universe, there is simply no control you can realistically exert if the person who bears the name of your brand suffers a reputation-killing incident.
There is quite simply no way of coming back from the black cloud surrounding Harvey Weinstein and Weinstein Co. It is, therefore, worth mitigating an immense and pervasive risk by preemptively rebranding, rather than staking everything on something that could be crushed by a single public event.
Brand capital doesn’t have to be fragile; there are proactive steps you can take to protect yours. One involves keeping your good name good by separating it from a real one. In the digital age of rapid-fire social commentary, business and family truly don’t mix well.