Violated Trust: The Oprah Case

January 5, 2009 | Comments Off on Violated Trust: The Oprah Case

As a product endorser, the one thing that you don’t want to see is the product you’re recommending turns out to be a scam. It is safe to say that everyone in the self help business wants to get an endorsement from Oprah, any books that get included in the Oprah book club can easily sell millions of copies. This opportunity¬† represents a significant amount of money in royalties, not to mention coaching and consultation fees. That’s why it creates a very strong intention and temptation for greedy authors – otherwise good people – to do whatever it takes to get their books included.

Herman Rosenblat, author of “Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived” was found to fabricate the details of his book. The book was a hoax, simply put. Sounds familiar? Yes it had happened before with Oprah. “A million little pieces” by James Frey, which made it on Oprah’s book club in 2006, was exposed as a partial fabrication. The publisher had to recall the books and offered a refund to buyers.

While publicists stated that Oprah’s production house has a team of experienced public relations specialists who scrutinize anyone invited to the show, these incidents showed that either the current risk management procedures are not strong enough or they are not being enforced they way they should. In recent memory, the only event that had caused brand damage of this magnitude was be the contaminated milk from China, which had given China a bad reputation over quality control.

I argue that products that so fundamentally touch our lives and have strong emotional connotations, such as food and self help products, require special attention in the quality control process. The violation of trust Рor the perception of it Рmay backfire in ways that no one expects.  Michael Wheeler from Harvard Business School also agrees that credibility may be our biggest assets.

Who is responsible for fact checks? The publisher? The production house? Is it even possible to check every piece of information in the book? What are the remedies? It seems that until someone is held responsible and some changes be made to the procedures, incidents like this will reoccur and continue to harm a brand’s equity.


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