John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Keith Olbermann and MSNBC

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Keith Olbermann

Loser:  MSNBC                                   




Let me put it this way:  I’m not exactly Keith Olbermann’s demographic.  That said, my business is evaluating the strength of brands and Olbermann is one strong brand.


You may not agree with him –and I don’t on most things— but he does what strong brands do (what Beck and Hannity do on the other side): he knows his Target Audience and he consistently delivers.


Fact is, it’s this consistent delivery of opinion, invective and, finally, dinero –putting his money where his mouth is— that got him into trouble last week for violating MSNBC’s policy on anchors not donating money to political parties. 


But what better way of saying brand commitment than by getting into trouble by doing what your Target Audience will invariably see as the right thing to do?


That’s why Olbermann wins this week.  When a brand –specifically a commentator brand like Olbermann— is seen to risk itself for its core values (read “core characteristics”, died-hard marketers) it wins.  Plain and simple. 


Hats off to Olbermann, also, for coming out of the bomb shelter today and thanking his fans and taking aim at MSNBC for an “inconsistently enforced” rule that caused this mess.  Staking out his ground like this can only help his brand by cementing his connection with his fans and diminishing his dependence on his network.




When a major media player doesn’t know its own brand… well, that’s sad.


But this is exactly what happened last week with MSNBC in the Obermann flap.


As I’ve said, with the exception of crisis situations that genuinely come out of left field, marketing should never be about what happens after things go wrong.  Why  Because marketing is about planning so things don’t go wrong.


In the case of MSNBC this meant making sure that they never ran into a problem where their internal rules regarding the ethics of their key broadcasters would cause external problems.

Fortunately, MSNBC has reversed its decision to suspend Olbermann, but, frankly, the brand damage has been done.  And they deserve all of it.


A few years ago, the network made the decision to move away from a stricter broadcast news format into the kind of opinion generating political commentary that really generates viewership numbers.  They also took sides by employing left-leaners like Olbermann and Maddow.

Nothing wrong with that from a brand perspective, but if you take that leap as a network, you had better acknowledge where the journalism ends and the commentary begins.  Fox does this.  No one would call Glenn Beck a journalist.  Similarly, no one should call Olbermann or Maddow journalists.   Or Colbert.  Or Stewart.


Fact is, I don’t think MSNBC really has its brand act together.  For example, there are reports that since MSNBC supposedly has “apolitical” in its DNA because it was a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC, a corporate memo has circulated internally advocating changing the website and name to get away from the left-leaning associations.


Bad idea.  It’s the left-leaning associations that have built the brand in recent years.   Moreover, you simply don’t walk away from a heavily-trafficked URL like that.  MSNBC might as well get out of the business altogether, if they aren’t prepared to embrace the brand that they have cultivated so far.


Stay tuned.


And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Marketing needs to happen from the start so that a brand crisis never does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *