Martha Stewart's recent conviction has Wharton professors debating the merits of personal branding in "When the CEO is the Brand, But Falls from Grace, What's Next?" While marketing experts at Wharton agree that making a celebrity of the owner is a good thing for a business, they stress the importance of putting certain safeguards in place to help prepare for the unexpected.
According to Wharton professors, companies should have other talent in place who can step in if the "appealing public personality" can no longer be in the spotlight. For instance, when Gianni Versace died in July 1997, his sister Donatella easily was able to step in to take up the reins since Gianni's team of designers had been developing much of the brand's new designs. Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Michael Dell, who have both built strong companies on their images, have created "separate, institutional identities" outside of their public personas that make their brands less vulnerable.
Nonetheless, celebrity obsession is a trend that could be on its way out, according to David J. Reibstein, a Wharton marketing professor. "Right now we're in an era of celebrity, where we allow paid stars to validate our products," he says. "Slowly, however, we're moving away from that and are beginning to instead seek independent, third party confirmation of our choices. But then again, it's amazing what some consumers will buy into. Some simply want to be able to associate their buying decisions with a name that they can read about in the media."