What Do Sarah Palin, Bill Marriott and John Templeton, Jr. Have In Common?

by cv harquail on November 17, 2008

They are all damaging some organization’s reputation, by causing "collateral reputation damage ® ".

Sarah Palin, right-wing Republican Sarah Palin is causing collateral reputation damage to Palin Wine.

bill marriott CEO of Marriott Hotels, Mormom, proposition 8 Bill Marriott is causing collateral reputation damage to The Marriott Hotels & Resorts Corporation.

John Templeton Jr., MD Proposition 8 supporter John Templeton Jr., MD, is causing collateral reputation damage to the John Templeton Foundation .

Palin, Marriott and Templeton — perhaps unintentionally yet certainly unavoidably — are all causing damage to organizations with which they are associated. These associations range from the spurious to the serious, but in each case, the associations are leading the organizations’ public stakeholders to downgrade the organizations’ reputations.

What is Collateral Reputation Damage ® ?

Collateral reputation damage is damage done to an organization’s reputation when advocacy by individuals or groups who may or may not be associated with the organization is interpreted by stakeholders as being action by the organization itself. It is collateral damage, not intentional damage, because the folks taking action don’t intend to damage the organization’s reputation. Instead, the damage occurs through"guilt by association".

Three Cases, Three pathways to damage

In all three cases:

  1. The organization and the individual share the same distinctive name.
  2. The organizations & their products have lost public support.
  3. The organizations themselves are innocent.

Although the cases of Palin, Marriott and Templeton share these three features, each one has some distinctive elements worth examining in more detail. With this post, I’ll explain the concept of collateral reputation damage and illustrate it with the simplest case, that of Sarah Palin and Palin Wine. In subsequent posts, I’ll unpack what makes the Marriott and Templeton cases so interesting. …

palin_syrah_limari Tarred by the same-name brush

The easiest way for collateral damage to occur is when the organization (or product) and an individual share the same name. This is what’s happening in the case of Palin Wines– especially with their Syrah.

There is absolutely no relationship between the organization that produces Palin Wines and the politician Sarah Palin. The association between Palin Syrah and Palin (Sarah) is clearly coincidental; everyone knows that Sarah Palin lives in Alaska, an area not known for its vineyards. And Sarah Palin is more interested in the war on terror than the preservation of terroir.

Yet, the name "Palin" conjures up a certain set of values, which get transferred from one Palin to the other, through the cognitive processes of attribute transfer. People who do not support what Palin does or what she stands for establish a negative assessment of the Palin wine. When they think of Palin Wine, they think less of it, because they associate it with a person whose actions, etc. they disagree with.

Association leads to loss of public support…

Even though only a name is shared between Palin and Palin , liberal consumers have responded negatively to the wine. Maybe they are unconsciously acting on their distaste for what the Governor advocates, maybe they are jokingly demonstrating that they can’t swallow a ‘conservative’ perspective.

Whatever it is, some liberal customers are (either jokingly or unconsciously) rejecting the Palin Wine as a way to demonstrate that they reject what it stands for in their minds. They have chosen not to order this wine in restaurants or to purchase it at wine stores, and this has lead to a steep decline in sales of Palin Wines. (It’s not clear whether right-wing wine consumers have increased their consumption of Palin Syrah.)

… Even though the organization is innocent.

Down in Chile, Viñedos Organicos Emiliana, lead by winemaker Alvaro Espinoza (the winemaker who introduced biodynamic viticulture into South America) works hard to produce their organic wines. Over at North Berkeley Imports, they "look for independent growers who… ideally farm their land naturally (often organically or biodynamically)" and who share their vision.

Even though their organizations have no relationship at all to Sarah Palin or to right-wing politics, these organizations are being penalized. Their reputations have been damaged, through no fault of their own.

And the irony is

Both the winemaker and wine importer are organizations that are committed to values that many liberals (the same folks dismissing the wine) would otherwise embrace.

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