The Bill Cosby brand was built over the years by his ability to bridge the racial divide and a belief that he stood for traditional values. He was praised for lecturing young African-Americans about the importance of raising children in a two-parent household. During his heyday, appearing as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on NBC’s The Cosby Show, he was seen as America’s dad. According to surveys, his character was one of America’s most popular television dads ranking up with Mike Brady from the Brady Brunch and Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best.
Yet now the Cosby brand is tattered. Allegations that he sexually assaulted and raped women in the 1980s and 1990s had already burnished his image. On July 6th, the brand image was shattered when depositions of Cosby from a 2005 civil case brought against the comedian by a woman who alleged a sexual assault by him were released. In the documents, Cosby admitted to drugging women he wanted to have sex with by giving them prescription Quaaludes. Overnight, most of his defenders turned on him. Cosby seemed to turn into Tywin Lannister or Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones rather than, America’s dad, Cliff Huxtable.
The iconic Cosby brand is damaged, beyond repair. He will remain a comedic genius (no one can dispute his talent) but the brand that was built upon his emphasis on wholesome values and addressing social issues among today’s youth is shattered. The reason is Cosby ran afoul against the number one rule of branding – to be successful the brand must be honest and authentic. As these allegations and depositions clearly show, the private Cosby and the public Cosby were two different people. No brand can survive such a revelation. The Cosby brand that had endured for years is no more.
Now the question is can anything be salvaged for Cosby. The answer is not much. NBC last year when the allegations hit a crescendo nixed plans for a comedy show starring Cosby. TV Land and others pulled The Cosby Show reruns. Colleges and other forums that had regularly booked him as a speaker are sure to cancel appearances. What does remain is a chance for Cosby to make an amends with the public that supported and believed in his brand for so long.
So what should he do?
- Come clean with what exactly happened and apologize. His lawyers will be against this since it will open him up for judgments in the civil lawsuits he is facing and could invite additional potential lawsuits. Yet it will offer the only chance for him to apologize to fans and ask for forgiveness.
- Admit that he has a problem and seek help.
- Fade from the public spotlight as he seeks counseling.
- Re-emerge and work to educate youth, using his rise and fall as a lesson. This could actually be his greatest legacy.
Those are the steps she should do. What should he not do?
- Go silent. Although lawyers love silence to the public it is an admission of guilt
- Attack his accusers. This will make him look even worse.
- Lie. This will deepen the damage done to him.
Bill Cosby was an American icon and now a lesson for brands. If the public image and the private are not the same, the public will feel betrayed and turn on the brand.