John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Playboy

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 

Winner:  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

Loser:  Playboy                                  


As I’ve said many times, a great brand distinguishes itself not by never getting into trouble at all but by responding to trouble with greatness –and that means swiftness, comprehensiveness and the customer-is-always-right high road.

This is exactly what Ruth’s Chris Steak House did last week.

The story is simple and upsetting.  A restaurant manager sent a racist insult about an African American customer to another employee via email.  This offensive email made its way to the customer by accident

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse’s response was excellent.
The company fired the manager, they reached out to the customer who had rescheduled her mother’s 60th birthday dinner at another restaurant after the incident and actively made amends by apparently offering a free meal to the party.

Bottom line, the company did not let the crisis fester and they showed by their definitive and positive response that they, the institution, had no part in the manager’s racism, but acknowledged unhesitatingly that the nasty incident had indeed happened.  No hedging.

Moreover, the company statement, also issued immediately, sounded sincere and believable: [we are] saddened to hear and so very sorry that anyone associated with Ruth’s Chris Steak House would think or make a statement so misaligned with our culture. On behalf of all our employees and franchises I am sorry that this ugly, inappropriate incident happened.

Hear that “so very sorry.”  That’s not public relations corporate speak.  That’s human speak from a corporation and doesn’t it sound great?

My prediction?  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is already on the mend and, even more important, they’ve probably restored the faith of that one, justifiably injured, customer.  After all, great brands are built one customer at a time.


Playboy, that once great brand, is the loser of the week.


The brand has been declining for years but this formerly seemingly sophisticated “gentleman’s” magazine has most recently suffered from a bout of Hefneritis.

That’s right, Playboy’s aging founder, Hugh Hefner, once an asset to the brand, has become a liability.

First, his recent marriage to a woman 60 years his junior doesn’t play as sophisticated, it plays as grotesque.  More than this, the marriage (or travesty) plays to the wrong Target Market. 

Are any men really going to be impressed by this?  Will this attract new readers or users of the brand’s goods and services.  Will even one more customer fly to its resort in Macau?

I don’t think so. 

Moreover, Hefner’s successful move to buy the remaining 30% of shares in the company that he already didn’t own have made his identification with the Playboy brand complete.  But even his purchase of the shares did damage to the brand by valuing the company –once estimated to be worth one billion dollars— at a mere quarter of that price.

In other words, hope of turning the brand into something that would appeal to today’s young and middle-aged men has gone out the door.  Like so many corporate branding mistakes, it’s the ego of the owner that gets in the way of clear-sighted marketing decisions.

Maybe with the now ready availability of porn, Playboy was already finished (its third quarter loss was even bigger than last year’s).  But the brand had re-invented itself in the past in the face of great competition (Hef’s daughter, I believe, had a lot to do with that success).

Bottom line, I’m afraid the Playboy brand has been permanently marred by too many reality television features, too much bad press and, finally, Hefner himself who has refused to get out of the brand’s way.  A young Hefner, a branding master, would have made sure that everything that an old Hefner did supported the company’s brand –but, folks, young Hefner is simply no longer with us.

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



Great brands respond to customer need and Target Market perceptions (and mis-perceptions) immediately.

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