Offensive or not, ESPN doesn’t understand the brand of Tony Kornheiser

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

24 January 2010

Comment wrong, but suspension is too long

Right up front, I’ll tell you that I’m a fan of Tony Kornheiser, the former Washington Post columnist and current ESPN star of “Pardon The Interruption.” I even listen to podcasts of his radio show, broadcast from Washington D.C. I think he’s entertaining, funny and has a wide scope of interests, unlike most in sports broadcasting.

“He did apologize, but he was in essentially apologizing for living up (or down, depending on your opinion) to his brand promise.”

 

Tony KornheiserAnother admission: His comments concerning SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm were offensive, wrongheaded and out of line.

OK, one more admission: ESPN, by suspending Kornheiser for two weeks, are the ones at fault here – for not understanding the brand of PTI. The network, essentially, is saying it cannot fulfill a brand promise it has so gleefully promoted.

thIf you’ve seen the show – or, better yet, listened to his radio show, which is infinitely more interesting – you know that expressing controversial and snarky opinion is exactly what the brand of PTI and Tony Kornhesier promises. In effect, Kornheiser is suspended for doing what he was hired to do.

The first thought I had after the announcement of the suspension was that it would force Tony to tone down his act – that is, he wouldn’t be living up to his brand promise anymore. He did apologize, but he was in essentially apologizing for living up (or down, depending on your opinion) to his brand promise.

It reminded me of something Howard Stern said after Don Imus was fired over his offensive comments concerning the Rutgers women’s basketball team. He said Imus should not have apologized, because Imus’ brand was to provoke. (And, in case you don’t know, there are few more bitter enemies than Stern and Imus.) Stern, love him or hate him, understands his brand promise.

Apparently, ESPN does not.

For marketers, it’s also a reminder to be certain about your brand promise in the first place. That’s not to say you must tip your hat to political correctness. In fact, the best brands say who they are for and who they are not for.

But make sure you can fulfill it, and support it. Backing away from it means the brand promise becomes less believable and important. And then you really are saying something stupid.

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