Bill Cosby's public image is taking a beating in the media and in public opinion. When all the women on talk TV, the news stations and even your former co-workers turn on you, it's all but over. Stick a fork in him. He's done.
The question I've been asking myself this week is - "What the heck took so long?"
Bill Cosby's life and brand are a perfect example of the purpose of public relations. The point is to build your image and brand piece by piece. A brand is not one thing or another, individually. A brand is a perception, a feeling, an essence and an emotion. Bill Cosby's brand was carefully crafted year after year in the public eye. His popular kids cartoon (Fat Albert) and endorsement of the Jell-o brand meant that he was kid-friendly, wholesome, all-American.
When he moved on to star in the ubiquitous Cosby Show, he built on the wholesome brand image and added another subtle layer. Family leader, professional, dutiful husband, devoted father. This is a person we could either relate to - or aspire to be. Some Americans got their first glimpse of a black professional - complete with the trappings of success.
As he restarted his standup career and also became known for his lectures on the behavior of young African Americans, he added another layer. Principled, outspoken, willing to speak up for the "right thing." Coming from a person with a lesser brand, the lectures or lessons would just have been called "rants." But not from Bill Cosby. Nope. President George W. Bush even gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor our country can bestow.
Bill Cosby had slowly but surely built a towering personal brand. Some of the key characteristics of his brand - which are shared by companies who have excellent public "faces," include:
- It's done over time - brick by brick.
- It's done in multiple ways - speeches, media coverage, TV appearances, magazine articles, public statments, awards.
- The power of the brand can withstand mulitple small controversies due to the credibility that has been built.
Ultimately, Cosby's shady and outrageous behavior was his undoing. But it's HOW the behavior came to light that is interesting. Allegations from mulitple women have been around for years - but it took a video naming him as a "rapist" to finally get public opinion rolling in the opposite direction. Then, the overwhelming testimony (again, on video) of the women themselves.
The transfer of the accusations from only print and legal documents to video is a significant factor in the change in public opinion. Seeing and hearing accusations is a much more powerful experience than reading about a legal allegation on an obscure website.
The medium which made Cosby famous is now seems to be his undoing. If I were him, I'd talk to Oprah about an exclusive interview. I'd advise him to say that he's made mistakes in the past, and tell him to beg for the public's forgiveness. He's got a huge task ahead of him. Each day he stays silent and allows his blustery lawyer to speak on his behalf, is another day that his public image is taking a hit.