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When You Lose the 'Face' of Your Brand

Experts say Men's Wearhouse is in need of a fresh young face. But pushing out its founder might do more harm than good.
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Men's Wearhouse is in need of a makeover, but canning its spokesman and founder George Zimmer might be hard to pull off. 

Spokesmen get dropped time and time again (remember Gilbert Gottfriend and Aflac?), but when your personal brand is so closely tied to your small business, the challenge becomes less about rebranding yourself than assuring fans things haven't changed. 

For Aflac, the solution was to change the conversation. When Gottfriend was fired, the press team diverted the chatter away from "What happened?" to letting customers find a voice for the insurance company's mascot.

But in the case of Men's Wearhouse, "George Zimmer is the true face of the company," says David Allen Ibsen of Five Meetings Before Lunch, a business and marketing firm based in San Francisco. "The question is why Men's Wearhouse would even do this. If it's because they want a completely fresh start from a brand perspective, then this makes sense. But if they compete with the core DNA of what he was and transfer that to a less personal thing, I think that's going to be an even harder sell." 

"The way you handle it is very important," he adds, noting how Priceline was able to kill off and resurrect its negotiator character played by William Shatner, because he was in on the joke. "If they fired Zimmer for being old or something negative, consumers will respond in kind by siding with the human they've established a relationship with." 

While Men's Wearhouse--and any small business--should have a contingency plan at the ready, Bertrand Pellegrin of brand consulting firm b. on brand isn't convinced another spokesman is the solution. "That's an antiquated notion," he says, adding that most successful brands today don't depend on them. "The answer isn't to bring in another spokesperson. The answer is to take a long, hard look at your brand and see what needs to be changed."

Above all, they must be authentic. Purdue's campaign kept the narrative going by passing the torch from father to son, says Eric Gustavsen of branding company Graj + Gustavsen, while Wendy's newest campaign featuring Morgan Smith Goodwin resonates with consumers because of her striking resemblance to Wendy. With her fiery red hair, "she's someone who looks like she's part of the family." 

In the end, Pellegrin says, the brand will have to speak for itself and right now it can't do so. "If you're only going to be known for two-for-one suits, and cheap suits at that, that isn't much of a legacy and you need to become something more." 

IMAGE: Lori Greig/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 21, 2013

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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