Billionaire Branding Mistakes

    Peter Thiel recently became one of my favorite billionaires by bankrolling the legal destruction of Gawker who – as most of you already know – totally deserves it. Gawker’s business model is built around destroying the lives of innocent people to attract clicks. Hulk Hogan found that out. Peter Thiel found that out. I found that out. So did a lot of other people. 

    How awful is Gawker? Imagine if revenge porn and cancer decided to get married and have an ugly baby with fangs. That would be Gawker. Pure evil.

    So when Peter Thiel put his reputation on the line to destroy Gawker, I believe his brand became more valuable. Now Thiel has the Robin Hood vibe going for him because he is fighting on the side of the victims who could not afford to take on Gawker in court. I see Thiel’s campaign against Gawker as a public service, and a valuable one. 

    But not everyone agrees with Thiel. For example, the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, decided to go the other direction and join sides with the cancer not the doctor. Omidyar is putting his reputation on the line to help Gawker’s odds of injuring in court the innocent people they have already injured in real life. Sort of a double-tap situation – one in the chest, one in the head. 

    In the case of publishing Hulk Hogan’s private sex tape – which featured a woman who didn’t know she was being filmed – Gawker is literally a sexual abuser. That’s the association that Omidyar has decided to attach to his brand.

    Omidyar is making a branding mistake on the level of Carly Fiorina’s debate performance in which she associated in our minds the image of an aborted baby with her presidential campaign. As I predicted immediately after the debate, that day was the end of her impressive run-up in the polls. It was all downhill after that image got into people’s heads.

    Omidyar has decided to merge his brand with images of Hulk Hogan’s penis, sexual abuse, clickbait, porn, and the lowest standard of ethical behavior the media has ever known. Why? Well, I don’t know. But it sure isn’t to make the world a better place. The cover story is that Omidyar is trying to prevent some sort of slippery slope situation in which billionaires start using Thiel’s strategy to target the legitimate media next. But that’s like saying a doctor shouldn’t be allowed to remove a cancerous tumor because that’s a slippery slope to cutting off the patient’s head for no reason.

    Meanwhile, other billionaires are trying to eradicate malaria, building children’s hospitals, and fighting for social justice. Omidyar, in stark contrast, decided to back Nick Denton’s Gawker. I’ll be fascinated to see how many people he can get to join his branding suicide mission.