Schwarzenegger: Has the Teflon Coating Worn Off?

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:44 PM EDT

Whatever you think about the Governator, he has a net worth estimated at $300 million. Up until the latest revelations that he fathered a child with a housekeeper in the same bed and home he shared with his wife, Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a Teflon-coated image that has brought him considerable wealth.

Prevailing in spite of his detractors
Many believe that Arnold is an opportunist that has been mediocre, at best, in all of his careers. They think that his...

  • Body-building legacy is tainted because he admitted to using steroids and taking drugs.
  • Acting is B-level with one-liners fed to him by writers such as "I'll be back" and "Hasta lavista, baby."
  • Business success was a bi-product of his fame and his marrying into the Kennedy family.
  • Term as governor was a disaster.
If Arnold's detractors are correct, he has done an amazing job of marketing himself - turning a mediocre product into a small fortune and protecting his image so that attacks from naysayers bounce off.

Creating his Teflon-coated image
By most accounts, Arnold created his image with ambition, willpower, personality, and charisma leading to a very successful movie career (his movies grossed more than $1.6 billion domestically). While many secrets about him are just starting to be revealed to the public, he has done an effective job of protecting his image through several careers that include body-building, business, acting, and politics. His loyal supporters think he is just great, and they are quick to excuse his transgressions. Some even tried to initiate a repeal of Article 2 of the Constitution so he could run for President. During his run for Governor of California, there were stories in the Los Angeles Times that he groped and humiliated women. Rather than deny the allegations, he followed the fact procedure where he...

  1. Admitted to groping women,
  2. Apologized for it,
  3. Limited the damage by positioning his actions as typical movie-set antics and receiving strong support from his wife,
  4. Promised that he would never do it again.
The procedure worked so well that many were outraged at the Los Angles Times for reporting the story. As a result, Schwartzenegger won the recall election that ousted then Governor Gray Davis, and was re-elected to a second term.

Evidence the Teflon is wearing off

In light of the latest revelations about his love child, Arnold employed the fact procedure again. However, this time it is not likely protect him because he violated step 4 -- breaking his promise that it would not happen again. Evidence of more serious image damage this time includes the following:

If Arnold is unable to recover this time, he might just have to say "hasta lavista, baby" to much of his public career. He may be able to still do selected movies, such as a Terminator sequel, but his working in prestigious government positions or doing movies for kids and families may be a thing of the past.

What can marketers learn from this?
Effective marketing can create and protect your public image. However, when you violate the last step of the fact procedure (you break your own promise that the problem will not reoccur), your protection is likely to erode. As Warren Buffett said during the financial meltdown, "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked."

Do you think Arnold can recover from the latest revelations? If so, what does he need to do?


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Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, provos@monkey

  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb