Feb 08, 2016


Family brands

Dynasties of businessmen, statesmen, artists and entertainers have been around for as long as anyone can remember. Good breeding will out, as they say, and it is on this basis that great families have built their fortunes. For a decade however, it is the sons and daughters that have consistently held center-stage in the media and business worlds, to the point where it could be argued that we are witnessing a brand new phenomenon. From the Bush clan to the Kardashians and everything in between, it appears that the ‘family brand’ is here to stay.

1. # Iamabrand

So what exactly is a brand? A brand constitutes all of the image attributes and symbols that give a product or a service a value that exceeds its objective intrinsic qualities. It refers to its emotional capital, its reputation and everything that makes it attractive to its audiences (the public, the media and influencers). 
With the rise in power of “personal branding”, there is now no hesitation in referring to a brand in relation to a living person. Today, everyone can receive advice on managing their image and developing it to the greatest potential. It is a valuable resource. With the development of social networks, this image capital can be easily reduced or expanded. Those in the public eye, or those who seek to attain this status, are hiring experts to manage their profiles on Facebook or Instagram. In his book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, Jon Ronson deals with the topic of shaming through social media. Sadly, there are people who are paid to do this.

Everything is a brand; we are all brands from the very moment that we have something to offer and this becomes public knowledge (albeit in a restricted way). What hasn’t been seen before is that merely acquiring the beginnings of recognition (and therefore visibility which can generate a profit) is enough to build a brand. We have witnessed this with the explosion of reality TV, an accelerator of celebrity status and therefore, a way for fame-seekers to quickly build their own brand. However, let’s remember that the brand serves only to showcase the product. And sometimes the product leaves much to be desired. In short, if a person becomes famous overnight solely on account of their media exposure, this will not be enough. Survivor contestant Colby attempted to make a go of his 15 minutes of fame on television, while his cast-mate Colleen tried to launch an acting career. Unfortunately, they didn’t have what it takes and both had short-lived post-Survivor careers. With this in mind, the creation of the Kardashian empire (and, by extension, the Jenner brand) is remarkable. It is a rare example of a brand constructed on very little, aside from being a one-of-a-kind family, which quickly acquired extraordinary fame. The Kardashian family is the precursor of the modern “family brand”.

2. Celebrity genes

In the industry, it is often said that the father sets the foundations, the son builds upon them and the grandson lets them crumble away. Is this borne out in the show business industry, for example? The answer is sometimes yes. Kirk Douglas was the first actor in the Douglas family. Michael Douglas has been in the industry for a long time and has not betrayed the father’s heritage by building an honorable career. But things seem to have gotten off to a bad start for Cameron Douglas, with his recurrent drug problems.

A brand always has a foundation, a nucleus of talent, DNA which is passed down from generation to generation and which allows products to enjoy a long life. Volvo is solid; Disney is magical; Sony is innovative. A strong family brand obeys the same laws. The Anoa’i family is one of the oldest and longest-standing in wrestling. This has partly been achieved through adopting others into the family, thus extending and diversifying their lineage. An example of one these “blood brothers” is Peter Maiva, better known as “The Flying Hawaiian”, who was the father-in-law of Rocky Johnson, another wrestler from Canada. Rocky Johnson, in turn, is the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a WWE wrestler and actor. While Peter Maiva was celebrated in the Pacific wrestling sphere, his son-in-law Rocky built his reputation in mainland America. The Rock is the next generation with multiple championship titles and a prolific acting career. Family brands, like all brands, can be damaged or even completely destroyed. 

Here are seven factors that can lead to their downfall or dissipation:

  • 1. Trust has been lost in the quality of the product. By the second or third generation, the public no longer puts its faith in it.
  • 2. It’s the same thing over and over again. If the son follows in his father’s footsteps by imitating him, without renewing or even reinventing himself, the family brand will run out of steam. 

  • 3. The owners of the brand have failed to live up to their reputation. They have committed a faux pas from which the family cannot recover.
4. The competition is so great that the family brand cannot contend against it.

  • 5. The world is changing and the family brand is stuck in a bygone age. The new generations of the family cannot hold their own. 

  • 6. The patriarch deliberately interrupts the course of the dynasty. “No, son, you will not do this job”. 

  • 7. The legacy is too great to take on and the children end up cracking under the pressure or abandoning it.

3. You will be a brand, my son

You might wonder why sons and daughters are so successful, especially as popular reaction is invariably the same: “oh, he’s just another wealthy family heir, a good-for-nothing, he got where he is because of his father”. However, the formula works. They are patented, approved, the wheels are set in motion.

But does it always work? The answer is… no. The heirs of the family brand are sometimes unable to deal with the pressure. There are similarities here with the automobile industry. There are many examples of famous vehicle makes, the original models of which achieved classic car status on account of their quality and reliability, while subsequent models suffer from endless comparisons claiming that the new versions simply cannot measure up. It is more or less the same situation for family brands. Heirs are put under the microscope and subjected to such fierce scrutiny that they often find it difficult to develop their own personalities. We need only look at Lily Rose Depp or Brooklyn Beckham, to name but a few. Some families are quite direct in announcing their heirs. Take the Trump family, for example. Donald Trump’s first child and son, Donald Jr., has been overlooked in favour of his more elegant, professional and intelligent younger sister, Ivanka Trump. Donald Trump picked her out of all his children to inherit the public persona and responsibilities of the Trump legacy. Ivanka is Trump’s most trusted adviser, the gleaming example in her brother’s theory of “race-horse breeding”;

Sometimes brands seek to diversify, and they invest in sectors far removed from their original area of expertise. If the brand is strong and credible and its values are universal, then the transition goes smoothly and success is in the cards.
But if the brand is fragile or its reputation is too caricature-like, failure is inevitable.
In the world of marketing, brand extensions do not always work. So what are the chances of success for extending a family brand? Can a family brand that has projected a bright aura in the world of sports or politics be reincarnated in the show-business arena? Or indeed, the other way around? 
The risk taken is always very high. In the UK, many politicians who have sought to raise their popularity outside the political sphere by appearing in reality shows like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” have only succeeded in embarrassing themselves. In USA, these industry-hopping difficulties appear to pose less of a problem. After all, Ronald Reagan became the fortieth president of the United States. Undoubtedly, this is because everything in the land of the free comes down to show business, particularly politics. Donald Trump has owned several beauty pageants and previously hosted a reality TV show. This didn’t stop him from announcing his candidacy for president. Severely lacking in terms of experience and credibility, one would expect his candidacy not to be taken seriously. In fact, the opposite is true: he has been catapulted to the forefront of the race for the White House.

4. Family brands have thick skin

A commonly-held view in the world of brands is that success lies in remaining focused on the domain of preference and ensuring that it never ceases to evolve. This is a principle that operates well with the most well-known family brands in the show business industry, such as the Coppolas. 
The gauge of success is often the ability of these families to exist in the long term, because their selling-point, in other words, their image, is fragile. And, as we know, over time an image develops a patina of age and shrivels away.

Five pre-requisites for a powerful family brand are as follows:

  • Maintain a cohesive set of morals and values within the public eye. While the political sphere requires a certain amount of restraint, the Kennedy family has stood up remarkably well to their self-imposed standard of American idealism.
  • Produce successive generations with fresh perspectives without betraying the spirit of the family. The Vonneguts are a family of writers and non-conformists, with each generation exhibiting their passions for literature and science in various incarnations.

  • Ensure success among multiple members or generations of the same family. Each generation of the Chaplins was involved in some of the greatest and most culturally-profound endeavors of their time.

  • Accumulate commercial success within each generation. It’s easy to forget that some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman) are all related. 

  • Support each generation through mutual reinforcement. Whether you find them funny or not, it cannot be argued that the Wayans family has built off the success of each other’s movies to create a comedy empire.

Based on these criteria, we enjoyed coming up with a list of the greatest family brands (subjective, of course).
(Families that have enjoyed success for three generations occupy the top spots!).

  • 1. Coppola
  • 2. Chaplin
  • 3. Kennedy
  • 4. Barrymore
  • 5. Vonnegut
  • 6. Kazan
  • 7. Manning
  • 8. Anoa’i
  • 9. Wayans
  • 10. Trump

While the phenomenon of family brands does not appear to be a new one, it has extended to more surprising areas such as sports, television and philosophy. It has also taken on excessive dimensions through media exposure. David Beckham is rarely mentioned without reference to Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz or Harper Seven! All celebrities, regardless of their own likeability, will, from now on, be judged in the light of their offspring. This is the new order: a star is expected to procreate more stars.

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