Brand Winners... And Losers: O'Reilly and Fannie & Freddie

Brand Winners…

   And Losers

The Marketing Doctor says:

Winner: O’Reilly Factors Big With Obama

Loser: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac 

Folks, this week’s brand winner and brand losers are:

The Winner:

Bill O’Reilly.  He’s a friend of mine, but this plays no role (at least not a big role) in Bill’s selection for this week’s winner.

Bill has been a long-time winner with his show The O’Reilly Factor, which is the highest rated show on cable news.  He is clearly someone who knows how to hit his target market again and again.

But this week, he has upped his game in what might be a breakthrough for his brand and for Fox News.


He’s got Democrats screaming about how good his four-part interview with Barack Obama has been.  They liked it a lot.

It looks like Bill did three big things with this single interview: 

1) he has broadened Fox’s audience by showing that this network (often characterized by Democrats as biased) might actually be more fair and balanced than they think —still aggressive but fair

2) he has broadened the Factor’s audience by showing that it is a place where serious journalism is being done

3) he has done this without alienating his core audience (the people who have watched him all along).

This is clear in the ratings, which are among the best in the show’s history.

Not only that, here’s a number that supports all three points: O’Reilly’s second part of the Obama interview went head-to-head with Keith Olbermann’s live interview of Obama on MSNBC, and O’Reilly drew 4.6 million to Olbermann’s 1.9.  A landslide.

We’ll see if the O’Reilly Factor builds on this trend, but for this week he is definitely the Doctor’s marketing winner.  


The Loser:

Without a doubt, this week’s losers are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

These mortgage behemoths have gone down in flames due to a wide variety of factors, and now we the taxpayers will eventually pay for it.  The Federal government (us) is now on the hook for the cost of 8 or 9 Iraq wars.

The fact that many in top management seem to be walking away with millions while the companies they (mis)managed are in such deep trouble doesn’t help perception.

The damage to these brands is possibly fatal —we won’t know for weeks or months— and this coupled with the massive size of the collapse would make them earn the loser title, but there is more.  There is brand irony.  

After all, Freddie and Fannie were created to help the U.S. homebuyer by creating a deep and liquid market for home finance and thus open the dream of home ownership to millions.  The problem is that these very companies now stand to damage that dream for millions for a long time to come. 

But the Marketing Doctor is not one to stew in a problem for long.  Here’s a potential path out of the brand loser category.  

Now that the government has decided to save these organizations (and add yet another twist to the idea of just what a free market is, if the government steps in everytime a finance company fails or threatens to fail), I believe the government and whoever ends up running Freddie and Fannie have an obligation to do some serious marketing.

Yes, marketing.  Marketing is an essential part of turning this problem around;  and if billions are going to be spent on a rescue, a small percentage should go to this critical element.  

And marketing in this case means a brandover.

A brandover means building on the core characteristics of a brand and implementing the best ways to make the packaging (or in marketing language, the related features) reflect this.

In the case of Freddie and Fannie, this means stressing the roots of both brands (i.e., that they are there to help the homeowner).  Their packaging must reflect these roots and this purpose.  A marketing campaign should highlight that stability has been restored, the mission defined afresh, with both brands leading the way out of the housing mess.  

Decades ago, the Chrysler bailout provided a model for how dire circumstances and government action can lead —with an effective marketing strategy— to a re-flowering of a battered brand.

One cornerstone of the Freddie and Fannie marketing campaign must be a name change.  Like Alleghany Airlines changed its name to US Airlines to reflect that it was no longer a regional, but a national brand, Freddie and Fannie must get out from beneath the toxic weight of their own names —which never really reflected their brands’ core features in the first place— and be re-named.  

My suggestion: Citizen Mortgage or, even better, Home Buyers’ Opportunity Corporation.

And if the finances make sense, it would be better to merge Freddie and Fannie into one organization with a single purpose and marketing strategy for getting there.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep branding in mind.


The key to winning as a brand is constant adaptability.


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