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The opposite of halo

Posted: May 19, 2011 - 10:56 PM ET - by Elisabeth

If we’re judged by the company we keep, we’re proud to have our colleague Abbe Kalina sharing her thoughts on endorsements on AIRtime this week.


Our society is ultra focused on celebrities. We look to them for direction on just about everything, from water to clothing and cars, to tell us what we need and shouldn’t live without.

Who hasn’t bought shoes that LeBron James says are great for shooting hoops or skin care products because they promise to make us look every bit as fresh as Katy Perry?

Advertisers count on this popularity and leverage it to sell products. The theory goes that there is a halo effect and that the positive thoughts and feelings that consumers have towards a celebrity will be transferred to the product they are backing.

This is great for celebrities. They typically get paid handsomely, and their participation serves as a means to keep them relevant and in the public eye. However, not all endorsements are created equally.

We’re all too familiar with the stories of celebrities who have “let down” a brand from Tiger Woods embarrassment of Nike to Cybil Shepherd’s admission that she didn’t eat meat as a spokesperson for The Beef Industry Council. Yet it’s interesting to note the opposite of the halo effect: pairing a popular celebrity with the wrong product endorsement can result in a decline in their star power.

Recently, a study profiled in The Harvard Business Review and conducted at the Florida Institute of Technology shows that for currently popular celebrities, being affiliated with a poorly perceived brand can negatively impact how attractive and trustworthy their adoring fans believe them to be.  And in their line of work, that’s major.

It’s a useful lesson for the reality stars and wanna-be influencers of tomorrow: we are judged by the company we keep. In regular life, we may have an opportunity to prove ourselves beyond associations and have the negative connotations from a poor association fall away. This may be the only luxury not afforded to celebrities.

In order to bounce back from a poor endorsement deal, even – perhaps especially – “celebrities” with less than world-class athleticism or movie star magnetism will have to work twice as hard to overcome any negative associations. People may not get to know them as a person, and the negative associations just end up getting wrapped into their public persona, which could possibly stay with them for the remainder of their careers.


A message from the universe

Posted: May 5, 2011 - 7:30 AM ET - by Elisabeth

I’m a believer that life presents some tests over and over until we pass them – and some messages repeatedly until we heed them. When I see or hear a message more than a few times in a short period – a magazine article or news story, a conversation or memory, an inspiring quote or even my horoscope (yes, I read it regularly) – I feel like I’m getting “a message from the universe.”

It started with a tea bag a week ago Tuesday. Really! If you’re familiar with Yogi tea, you know the tags have brief sayings. This one said something about trusting my intuition.

Wednesday night, at dinner with colleagues, the conversation turned to Gavin de Becker’s book, “The Gift of Fear.” Those of us who had read it were explaining the premise to those who hadn’t: follow your intuition. Becker describes how victims of violent behavior often feel fearful before any violence takes place, and how paying attention to that feeling can protect us. His example, which has stuck with me for years, is how a woman ignores her intuition and gets on an elevator with a suspicious stranger. Is she doing what’s polite rather than right?

Thursday morning I was at the PRSA Health Academy National Conference listening to a keynote speech by Elizabeth Cohen, CNN’s senior medical correspondent. As she spoke about “Communicating with the Empowered Patient” she shared stories of patients who didn’t accept the diagnosis they were given, but followed their “gut feelings” to get the treatment they really needed.

She also told her own story about her daughter who was admitted to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when she had seizures shortly after birth. The doctor’s orders to discontinue high doses of drugs and spinal taps were not passed along to the next shift, and she found herself arguing with the nurses about the need to do another painful spinal tap, “Nothing had prepared me for this moment: the moment I would have to protect my daughter against a system bent on doing the wrong thing. Not my public health degree, not my 12 years as a medical journalist at CNN, nothing.“ She was sent back to her hospital room sobbing hysterically until she was able to explain the problem to one of her own nurses who helped to resolve the situation.

As Elizabeth joked about her “empowerment through tears,” I felt my past slamming into me. I remembered feeling anxious and frustrated in my brother’s hospital room. I thought something wasn’t right. Maybe I was overreacting? No, something was definitely wrong. The familiar rhythm of the beeping and blinking medical machinery was out of sync, but no one was responding to the call button. My anxiety turned into fear and my frustration into fury. I heard yelling as I bolted toward the nurses’ station. It was me. Screaming! Doctors and nurses came racing into the room with equipment. I sat in a corner of the room watching the flurry of activity and shaking. Nurses came in like clockwork for the rest of the night, but they avoided eye contact. Finally one nurse walked in and looked right at me. I wasn’t sure whether I was more embarrassed by my outburst or angry that was how I had to behave to get Steve the help he needed, and she seemed to know that. She leaned over my chair and said, “you did the right thing.”

Right, not polite, but I followed my instincts.

My “message from the universe” seems to be a reminder to follow my instincts … listen to my intuition … trust my gut reaction. … but I know better than to trust every decision to fortune cookie wisdom and intuition. I believe it’s wise to apply some rational thinking to my “gut reactions” – and in this case, even a little research.

As I was thinking about this post, I looked up more information on decision-making – from Psychology Today to Harvard Business Review. I learned that not even the “experts” agree on how we should make decisions. One gives no credence to intuition, saying we should always deliberate. The next says particularly when time is of the essence, we should follow our intuition. Another believes gut reactions are unreliable in turbulent situations, but more credible in calmer situations. Yet another says, counterintuitively, the more complex the decision, the more valuable our intuition – perhaps because the outcome is a matter of perspective.

The most reasonable discussion I read took into consideration how knowledgeable people were in the area in which they had made the decision. “Not surprisingly, their success rate was several times higher for decisions made in fields where they had expert knowledge. If intuition is indeed the handmaiden of experience, it stands to reason that those decision-makers who have passed Herb Simon’s 10,000 hours of experience threshold would have higher quality intuition.” And then, of course, there’s Einstein …

So it seems there’s a time and place for both rational, deliberate thinking and intuitive, gut reactions. In fact, there’s opportunity for a useful balance.

Are you wondering what decision it is I’m supposed to be making? Actually, I’m not sure yet either … I’ll keep you posted.”