On Forbes.com Today: The Al Qaeda Brand Died Last Week

Please visit Forbes.com for our article on the demise of the Al Qaeda brand following last week’s drone attack on Al Qaeda’s most visible marketing executive and Inspire magazine publisher/editor.

UPDATE:  Found on Jihad Jihad Watch. Seems bin Laden himself was worried about his brand. In documents recovered by the SEALs, he wrote that he was considering changing the name of al Qaeda to “Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad,” meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, or “Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida,” meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group. Well, if drone attacks hadn’t killed the al Qaeda brand, it seemed like top management was poised to muck it up on their own.

Lady Gaga Sues Excite World Over Billion Dollar Brand Name

Lady Gaga Brand ValueLady Gaga has a valuable brand–and she is smart to be as aggressive protecting it as she has been building it. Estimates put the value of the brand at nearly $1 billion, including recording sales, concerts, clothing, fragrances, and more.  She now rakes in over $90 million a year and hasn’t even begun to exploit the value of her brand. Lady Gaga filed suit this week in New York against a company that seeks to shake down a piece of that action.

Excite World, a shady Nevada corporation who’s Web site has been shut down, has filed for trademarks that most likely will never be granted. Claiming they want to sell a line of cosmetics and jewelry, they have filed to trademark “Lady Gaga,” “Lady Gaga by Design,” and “Lady Gaga Fame.” Though the company has next to no chance of winning these claims, the filings do have the effect of blocking Lady Gaga’s own legitimate claims.  Lady Gaga can pay Excite World a fortune to go away or she can sue. Having time and money on her side, Lady Gaga is suing.

More more on Celebrity Brands

The Al Qaeda Brand Ten Years Later

Most people don’t think of Al Qaeda and marketing in the same sentence. But marketing is important to Al Qaeda and so is the strength of its brand. It is the key to raising money, recruiting jihadis and motivating them to attack.

Al Qaeda Flag
The Al Qaeda flag features the Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

Weak Al Qaeda Brand Image
The Al Qaeda brand is in trouble. Like many brands, it got its name by accident. The name means “The Base,” referring to the network of mujahedeen training camps founded during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It doesn’t really have a logo ( but it does have a flag). At least it avoids the terrorist visual clichés of crossed swords and crossed guns.

Al Qaeda Brand Built on Personalities
Al Qaeda’s brand largely rests on cult of personality—think Martha Stewart, Oprah or Donald Trump. That’s why Osama bin Laden dyed his beard for his video appearances and why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed draped himself in white robes for the Red Cross photographers on Guantanomo. With the death and capture of its iconic leaders, the engine of the Al Qaeda brand is broken. Chief Marketing Officers in American firms have notoriously short tenures. So do CMO’s of Al Qaeda. Getting fired from Al Qaeda, however, tends to take the form of a drone attack.

Failing Brand Experience
In addition to outsize personalities, the Al Qaeda brand was built on headline-grabbing acts of terror. A decade has passed without what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed called “spectaculars.” It’s been years since Al Qaeda has been able to make splashy attacks like the USS Cole, the Bali bombing or the 9/11 “Planes Operation.” Thwarted attempts, like the Underpants Bomber or Times Square bomb fizzle, show smaller ambitions and a “brand experience” linked to failure after failure.

Splintering Franchise
Like many once iconic brands, Al Qaeda has splintered. Brand experts point out the damage to brand power when it “stretches” too much. The most effective brands are singular and iconic. Al Qaeda is fading due to the proliferation of “flavors” and associated “subbrands.” Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula lacks the panache of plain old Al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed lacks name recognition.

Al Qaeda Brand and a Reduced Strategy
Ten years ago, Al Qaeda was more like Procter & Gamble with central brand management and control. Nowadays, it is more like Amway. Al Qaeda declined from peerless icon to a collection of franchises to local to being a coach on the sidelines, encouraging and assisting personal initiative. Pursuing a “strategy of a thousand cuts” or “one man, one bomb,” Al Qaeda supplies the fatwa, the bomb recipes, the strategic suggestions and sits back. Current Al Qaeda propaganda minister (CMO) Adam Gadahn asks, “So what are you waiting for?” Thankfully, making a bomb from a recipe in Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine is more difficult than duplicating Martha Stewart’s cake fondant. It always looks so do-able on the page and comes out like crap in your own kitchen.

As a brand that inspired fear, attracted investment and inspired jihadis, the Al Qaeda brand has lost its power.

UPDATE: 9/30/2011: The Al Qaeda brand has sustained another blow with the death of its chief English speaking propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki and the editor of Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine Samir Khan. al-Awlaki wasn’t considered a top leader in Al Qaeda, but he was an important face of the brand in the U.S. due to his role in assisting some of the 9/11 hijackers, his inspiration of the Ft. Hood shooter Nidal  Malik Hasan, and his involvement with the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. His role in Inspire magazine and his English language threat videos further raised his personal profile and awareness of Al Qaeda. We had talked about how many Al Qeada brand leaders have been “fired” by drone attacks–for the marketing leaders that remain, it is a question of who is next on the list and when. See my article on Forbes.com

Related Posts:
Approaches to Brand Architecture
When a Brand Is a Person
Bin Laden Brand Lives and Profits (But Not as He Intended)

Justin Bieber in Brand Endorsement Trouble?

Wendys Burger King Justin Bieber PrankJustin Bieber has become the latest celebrity brand spokesman to find himself in brand trouble. Advertising Age wrings its hands at the damage his prank could do to his power as a celebrity endorser for brands such as Best Buy, Proactiv, and Google Chrome.

We’ve covered celebrity brand woes and the impact of personal scandals on national brands at length. Britney Spears shaved her head leading Pepsi to cut her off as a spokesman. Martha Stewart, Tiger Woods and Michael Vick also suffered lost endorsement deals when their immoral or criminal acts dominated the headlines.

Justin Bieber’s prank, trying to return a Wendy’s shake to a Burger King store, hardly rises to the level of scandal that hurts brands. Furthermore Justin Bieber’s brand is that of a cute teenage boy. The prank fits within his brand equity. Advertising Age does point out that being a jerk is part of being a teenage boy. And “teenage boy” is brand equity that sells pre-teen girls.

Note: This prank has gotten very little press mention, further blunting it’s impact on the selling power of Bieber as a pitch boy.

More on celebrities and brands:
When a Brand Is a Person
Nike Endorsement Deal Signals Michael Vick Brand Comeback
Michael Vick’s Potential as a Brand: Lessons from Martha Steward and Tiger Woods
Nancy Pelosi Enlists Steven Spielberg to Fix Her Personal Brand

Old Spice in a Win-Win Duel Between Mustafa and Fabio

When Old Spice announced that Fabio would be replacing Mustafa, the outcry was instantaneous. Was Old Spice going to end up like The Gap and quickly backtrack when customers on social media screamed loudly enough?

Old Spice Guy Mustafa IsaiahOld Spice Guy Fabio









Not so fast. It was a set up from the beginning—a set up perfect for generating buzz and involving fans. Fabio has issued this challenge on “the internets” for a duel with the “old new Old Spice guy” against him, the “new, new Old Spice guy.”

Fabio Challenges Mustafa Old Spice Guy on Twitter

Fabio or Mustafa? Who will win?  Clearly Old Spice will!

News Corp. Brand Will Survive News of the World’s Demise

Will the News of the World fiasco hurt the News Corp. brand? I doubt it, for the same reasons that brands like Martha Stewart and Michael Vick have bounced back.

News of the World Brand Dies

While the hacking has slowed down the business side of News Corp., most notably in its bid for BSkyB, and criminal charges for top execs remain a threat, the News Corp. brand will bounce back because:

1) The public already holds media in low regard. When the New York Times is guilty of wrong facts, slanted reporting and made-up stories and CBS News, the icon build by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, wears a thick coat of tarnish, illegal hacking is hardly a death blow.

2) In an industry not held in high regard, integrity was never a key part of the News Corp. brand DNA. This is the company, after all, that invented the “Page 3 Girls” and used bare breasts to sell papers.

3) The core audience for the “news” aspect of the News Corp. brand distrusts government, does not idolize the elites that the hacking allegedly targeted, and doesn’t listen to the outrage of moderate-left to fully-leftist critics.

4) News is only a small part of the News Corp brand. Over 70% of the brand revenue comes from TV networks, TV programming, movies and satellite-TV services operations contributed. As Ad Age noted, “Is anyone really going to stop watching ‘American Idol’ on Fox or boycott 20th Century Fox movies over phone hacking by a British newspaper?”

It is “thank you & good bye” for News of the World, but onward and upward for the News Corp. brand.

Nike Endorsement Deal Signals Michael Vick Brand Comeback

Back in January, 2011, when Michael Vick signed his first endorsement deal with a local NJ Nissan dealer, we predicted the Michael Vick brand would come back as strong as the player himself. Today, Nike announced they have re-signed Vick to a multi-year contract.

Michael Vick Re-Signs with Nike

To recap why the Michael Vick brand bounced back:

1) His crime had little to do with what built his brand in the first place. Vick made his name by playing winning football, and he is back playing winning football again.

2) He had a dodgy image from day one. His crime was just a further step down a bad road, not a jarring new truth. He never presented himself as a role model like Tiger Woods.

3) Vick paid a high price and is truly repentant. He lost his job in football, lost all endorsements, went to prison, and went bankrupt. Getting a second chance in football, he has worked hard and has earned the respect of his team mates.

Back in 2007, Nike called Vick’s actions “inhumane and abhorrent. ”  Today, Nike says, “we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field.”

Everyone cheers a comeback. That’s a good start for the Michael Vick brand. The prodigal son is especially loved.

…and it doesn’t hurt that this announcement has got people talking and talking and talking about the Nike brand.

The original Post: The Michael Vick Brand: Lessons from Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods

Osama bin Laden Brand Lives and Profits

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his brand is not. USA Today is reporting the Osama bin Laden brand is suddenly doing a booming business.  From bumper stickers and ties to coffee mugs and t-shirts (you can even outfit your dog), the merchandising of bin Laden has begun.

Celebrity branding is a big business.  Industry pundit Ira Mayer estimates dead stars  generated $2.25 billion in North American revenue in 2009. An ecosystem of specialist agencies and license holders has sprung up to capitalize on lingering fame and brand equity of deceased persons. The likes of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley are worth far more now than they were when they were alive.

Celebrity Brands
Of course, the big draw for the Osama bin Laden brand is that no one claims the licensing rights (though the U.S. Navy SEALs arguably could claim bragging rights). There will be no end to tastelessness. Despite two shots to his head, it is still open season on bin Laden’s brand.

UPDATE: Adweek has been chastised for an article deemed tasteless on the Al Qaeda brand. Indeed branding and bin Laden is completely tasteless–they even got Zombie bin Laden T-shirts on the market in less than 24 hours. Amazing.


Show Your Gratitude…send the Navy SEALs a postcard:

    1. Navy UDT-SEAL Museum
      3300 North Highway A1a
      Fort Pierce, FL 34949-8520

Though working in secret and seeking no glory, they richly deserve our thanks—so let’s give it to them. It would be so awesome to build a mountain of thank you cards from their fellow Americans (and people from all nations). Please take a moment to write the two little words that mean so much. Tell our finest ‘”thank you.”  More on SEAL history here.

More on people brands:

American Express Open Article on Personal Branding

American Express Open Forum Personal BrandingThe American Express Open Forum publishes advice articles for small business leaders. Today’s featured article, which quotes Merriam Associates, is about personal branding–how you can create a recognizable persona for yourself and your company. A personal brand has always been helpful for advertising, recognition, and networking. The growth of social media makes thinking deliberately about your personal image more critical than ever.  Read it here.

Sarah Palin a Registered Trademark?

Sarah Palin TrademarkWe’ve covered political brands and the subject of brands who are people or with value closely tied to a real person, but today, the web site Mediaite has broken the story of the trademarking of the name Sarah Palin. Pretty soon, that “R” next to her name won’t mean “Republican,” but “Registered Trademark.”

It’s not unusual for to trademark a name. Jennifer Lopez has done it, as has Paul Newman, Michael Jackson, and Martha Stewart–even Ronald Reagan. Still, trademarked names of politicians is rare. Barack Obama hasn’t done it yet. Neither has Nancy Pelosi.

That said, I suspect Sarah is in early on a new trend. Every brand should take every step to “own” their name. For people, owning your own trademark is an inexpensive way to protect your persona, whether you are a celebrity selling salad dressing or a politician turned opinion leader.  If you don’t trademark your name, someone else will.

What is interesting about the Sarah Palin trademark application is what it reveals about Palin’s future plans. The left seems fixated on Palin’s political future, but it seems Palin is more focused on “information about political elections” and “providing a website featuring information about political issues”-in other words, a pundit brand, and the other for “educational and entertainment services … providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values”–could more reality television be in Sarah’s future?

More on brands and real people:
Steve Jobs and Apple’s Future Brand Value
Michael Vick’s Potential as a Brand: Lessons from Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods
When a Brand is a Person