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Martha Stewart’s Celebrated Journey Back from Marketing Exile

Falling from grace seems to be a natural occurrence among the popular and famous. Politicians, actors, musicians, sports icons, and business moguls who have risen in stature to the pinnacle of a chosen endeavor often appear to be destined to become a victim of personal misconduct. The marketing field of play is littered with the remnants of the reputations of those consumer influencers whose personal missteps brought an end to unparalleled reputation and public marketability.

A study conducted by Anita Elberse, Harvard Business School, showed that approximately 20% of all advertising features a celebrity, and that brands can experience a 20 to 40 percent increase in consumer trust when using a celebrity endorsement. A successful partnership between a brand and endorser can increase a consumer’s level of satisfaction and confidence in the product or service. Nearly 20 percent of all advertising aired in the United States features a well-known celebrity endorsing a product or service. But trust gained can easily be trust lost when the wheels come off the celebrities’ image.

When Martha Kostyra was growing up Nutley, New Jersey, she began organizing birthday parties and special events for neighbors while she was still in grammar school and later went on to earn her college tuition through modeling assignments in nearby New York City. Early on she demonstrated a focus and tenacity toward developing a business centered around a domestic lifestyle. Her innovations in brand development through personal endorsements built a small catering business into an international media and home-furnishing corporation known as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Martha’s business empire grew as millions of fans developed trust in her advice and the brands she endorsed, earning her recognition as the first female billionaire entrepreneur. But her reputation and personal fortune crashed in 2003 when she was indicted on nine counts of securities fraud and obstruction of justice. An illegal maneuver to avoid over $45,000 in stock losses resulted in a four-month prison sentence and what appeared to be a life sentence in lost consumer trust in her brand.

But unlike so many fallen celebrities, Martha Stewart engineered an amazing comeback in the face of total public humiliation. Rededicating herself to connecting with a once loyal following, she formed partnerships with purveyors of cannabis products, home decor, bakeware, and food products. Today Martha connects with more than 100 million consumers each month across her website, merchandise, and social media channels. Her Martha Stewart branded products are found in more than 70 million households around the world generating approximately $900 million in retail sales each year. Brand owner Marquee’s CEO Neil Fiske says, “Martha is the ultimate expert in all things home. There’s really no brand that compares to 30 years of content, storytelling, product development and teaching.”

Martha has also regained popularity and trust among consumers to the point where other famous brands are reaching out to gain her endorsement for brands. This year in a 60 second spot advertisement for Tito’s vodka called “Dry January”, the personable expert on everything domestic can be seen pitching a comedic series of non-drinkable uses for Tito’s Vodka. At the commercial’s end, she exclaims, “Martha needs a drink.” Perhaps it is a small request for the 81-year-old’s celebrated journey back from marketing exile.