Multitude of deals could hurt Martha

By Published on .

After endorsement talks in everything from perfume to paint, Martha Stewart is still a hot property. But a turning point is coming for the formidable human marketing machine.

In the coming year, Ms. Stewart will take control of the Martha Stewart Living franchise, with start-up partner Time Inc. expected to retain a minority stake.

Meanwhile, through syndicator Eyemark Enterprises, her TV show will start airing six times a week next fall.


As Martha madness continues, it is fueling a syndicated newspaper column, and a radio show and Web site are on the way.

She's linked up for a holiday promotion with Coca-Cola Co.'s Minute Maid Co. unit. She's recharged her 1985 deal with midscale retailer Kmart Corp. for a line of products scheduled for next spring and has begun--and discontinued--talks with perfume marketer Giorgio of Beverly Hills for fragrances.

Ms. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this article, but at a recent presentation in Washington, she said, "We have thought of everything; we have lots of things coming."

But marketing experts warn that with all the Martha frenzy, she'd best be careful not to overexpose her prized brand name, and must be particularly leery of associating with ventures that don't fit her carefully honed image.

"She appears to be in a mad rush [for endorsements]. I don't blame her--when you're hot, you're hot," said branding and positioning expert Clay Timon, chairman of San Francisco's Landor Associates.


But he cautioned that Ms. Stewart must be careful "not to spread herself blatantly across too many" categories and images. "You don't want people asking, `Who is Martha Stewart? Is [her image] rural, country, city? Williams Sonoma or Kmart?' " he said.

To a degree, Ms. Stewart has begun acknowledging the need for more strategic planning.

In her talk before the Washington Press Club last week she noted, "We are strategizing now . . . we worked day to day and month to month and now year to year."

But, said a retail marketing executive, "The question is, at what point do you lose your cachet? How far can she expand it without being overexposed? My sense is today Martha Stewart is not overexposed. But if I were her, I would be watching very, very closely."


In addition, some critics say Ms. Stewart is coming close to violating a sacred marketing rule by allowing her brand to be aligned with products that aren't a perfect fit.

For example, in October, the same month Martha Stewart Living promoted the joys of wet- and dry-harvesting cranberries, the Stewart camp announced a holiday promotion with Minute Maid, a marketer of convenience drinks. The irony: Ms. Stewart, whose TV shows and magazines advocate doing things from the ground up, was doing Minute Maid radio spot voice-overs and appearing in a 42 million-circulation free-standing insert in the fourth quarter this year for the marketer's frozen drink concentrates. Moreover, the deal called for Minute Maid advertising in MSL including "holiday recipes and crafts using Minute Maid products and packages."


In the linkup, it is clearly Minute Maid that was benefiting from the halo of Martha Stewart's image. "This tie-in reinforces the exceptional quality consumers associate with Minute Maid Premium fruit juices and drinks," said John Clendening, VP-Minute Maid. Yet what the agreement does for Ms. Stewart's brand name is less clear. Another example of confusion is in her paints.

Ms. Stewart currently markets a line of house paints via Fine Paints of Europe that retails for $85 a gallon. Concurrently, she's working to create a line of paints with Sherwin-Williams to sell at mass marketers, including Kmart, where budget-conscious consumers shop.

The retail executive draws a parallel between this kind of activity and Pierre Cardin, once an upscale brand that he said is now equated with "cheap French." This executive cited Ralph Lauren as an example of one of the few designer names who has successfully protected his brand name among many categories and price points. "As Martha broadens her brand, how can she be sure she is as successful as Ralph Lauren, and not Pierre Cardin?" he said.


Moreover, Ms. Stewart, who told the Association of National Advertisers in October that the median income of readers of her magazine is $63,000, is renegotiating her contract with Kmart, known as the home of the "blue-light special."

According to one executive familiar with Ms. Stewart's enterprises, she has even had discussions with Sears about an endorsement deal, though the retailer denied that. A magazine consultant, however, said not to underestimate Ms. Stewart's ability to pull off multiple alliances. "There's no paradigm," said Martin Walker of Martin Walker Associates. "Nobody's ever done it before."

Contributing: Ira Teinowitz, Keith J. Kelly.

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

Most Popular
In this article: