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A Brand In Jeopardy

I usually ignore cultural kerfuffles. They’re almost always much ado about nothing and it’s not like I have any influence over them anyway. But the latest one, involving the search for the replacement host for the hit game show, Jeopardy, did get my attention. For those who may not know, Jeopardy is a long-running television quiz show where the game supplies the answers and contestants have to provide the correct, corresponding questions. It’s wildly popular for a number of reasons. It’s intelligent; the questions range from smart to quite challenging and you learn something new in every half-hour show. The contestants are awesome; not just with their range of knowledge but with their game-play strategies, their quick reactions and their facility with the “backwards” format of the game. But another reason for the show’s success is clearly America’s great love for its long-time host, the genial and gentlemanly Alex Trebek (pictured), who passed away almost a year ago. Ever since, the show has been on a search for someone to fill his impossible-to-fill shoes. It was a mission-critical task. The brand was literally in jeopardy.

So they had multiple public auditions, inviting celebrities and stars of every stripe to guest host. The fans rallied around their favorites. A large number of them promoted LeVar Burton, actor and host of a popular children’s show. I once met Mr. Burton and had the opportunity to spend some time with him. So I was solidly in the Burton camp. I felt he projected the same sort of intelligence, class and kindness as did Trebek. But the producers watched the ratings. In the end, they selected one of their own, show producer Mike Richards. They also pegged actor Mayim Bialik as a part-timer to handle some of their specials.

The choice seemed puzzling, to say the least. It reminded one of Dick Cheney being assigned to find a vice president for George W. Bush and, after a long search, recommending … himself. But whatever. As I said, I didn’t really have a dog in the fight. As much as I love it, I rarely watch Jeopardy. And I didn’t watch a single guest host audition, not even Burton’s. So what do I know?

It didn’t take long for the page to turn. Richards has already resigned and Mayim Bialik will take over all hosting duties until a new host is selected. Apparently, the new guy is on the record having said distasteful and ugly things about various demographic groups. His remarks must have been pretty bad because no one seems in the mood to accept his apology, which he claims is sincere and heartfelt. So he’s out and now the search is on again for a permanent host. (Please give Burton another shot. His ratings were low, yes, but give him a break. He was on opposite the Olympics!)

None of this would have amounted to more than a small hill of beans to me. Except that, the other day, as I was making the bed, the morning news was covering the story. And one commentator emphasized, “Everyone in America has a relationship with Jeopardy.” That stopped me in mid-pillow plump.

Because it is so true. And, as bRandtalk readers know, that relationship, between marketable asset (the show) and its market (the fans) literally IS the brand. You don’t want to mess around with that relationship. By doing such a poor job of vetting Richards before announcing his promotion, Jeopardy put their whole brand in question. Not that it’s going to fail or anything. As the commentator said, “everyone” in America shares in that relationship. Jeopardy has about as strong a brand as one could imagine. But a gaffe like that? If it doesn’t condemn a brand it can put it on probation. Any other mishap, while on parole, and the brand could suffer serious, long-term damage. Two more such mistakes could spell the end. The public will give a break to a brand that has spent decades earning its love. But its patience is not eternal.

As you run your own businesses, you will have hurdles thrown in your path. A popular customer-facing employee may suddenly be gone. Some other event may disrupt, not just your business but, more specifically, your all-important relationship with your market. That’s not the time for self-serving decisions. It’s not wise to use research only to rationalize your predetermined course of action. It’s certainly not the best time to experiment with new, untested solutions. When disruption happens, you should be extra-attentive while listening to your market. Find out how your customers want to define the brand relationship moving forward.

A – Heard and valued.
Q – How do markets want to feel?


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