Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Can Stewart brand name survive conviction?


Martha Stewart's guilty verdict on Friday may have damaged the brand name of her household products beyond repair, even if her moniker is stripped off the labels and namesake company, retail and media experts said.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans surveyed in a consumer poll last week said they would no longer buy Martha Stewart products if the self-made millionaire was found guilty of making false statements and obstructing justice in a stock-trading scandal, according to preliminary results.

Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer research firm Americas Research Group, said 600 out of a total 1,000 interviews for the poll have been tabulated.

Beemer says that when 40 percent or more of consumers say they will no longer buy a brand, those brands are apt to never come back.

"She's very close if not over that negative 40 percent level, which is beyond repair," Beemer said.

He said it was likely that her namesake company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, would change its title to remove the Stewart reference, possibly an acronym like "MSO".

"The only option at this point ... is to have someone come out from behind the curtain and say, 'I'm the person who's really been designing this stuff for the last 5 years'," he said. "The trouble is Martha's ego in the past has never allowed anyone else in the company to have a face."

Steven Addis, chief executive of the Addis Group branding agency, said the company should focus on what Martha Stewart's brand represents -- well-designed, quality goods for the American home -- minus Martha.

"There is lots that can be done, including not using her likeness," Addis said.

Discount chain Kmart, which carries Martha Stewart product lines, has kept her well-groomed image in its advertising, even after she was indicted last June. Kmart commercials featuring the ex-model were on national television Thursday night, the eve of the verdict.

The March edition of Martha Stewart Living, the magazine which has seen advertising drop sharply, carries a photo of a smiling Stewart with garden hose in hand accompanying a letter to readers on spring's green resurrection.

"The era of Martha Stewart as style maven was probably reaching its expiration date anyway," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. "There is something very '90s about it."

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