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Social media: Marriott is guilty in Erin Andrews case

Social media was quick to defend Erin Andrews -- and to convict the Marriott hotel brand name -- after a defense attorney in Andrews' $75 million suit against a Marriott franchise in Nashville, Tennessee, suggested the sports journalist had benefited financially from the release of a nude video of her taken illegally in the hotel.

Chicago attorney and sports legal analyst Exavier Pope weighed in on Twitter:

A national women's advocacy group said Marriott was blaming the victim, and it called on Marriott International (MAR) to take responsibility for the conduct of its franchisee.

"It's up to Marriott to speak up in defense of Erin, they've got to take responsibility," Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, an online community that claims more than 700,000 members, told CBS MoneyWatch. Depending on how the trial and Marriott's response plays out, the group might step up its efforts to include a campaign calling for a boycott of the hotel chain, she said.

Online petitions calling for just that have appeared in recent days on change.org and ipetitions.com, although neither appears to have drawn a substantial following as yet.

Jeff Flaherty, Marriott International's director of crisis communications, on Friday released a statement, saying that while the hotel chain was sympathetic to Andrews' plight, it was not responsible for what occurred at a franchised hotel that operated independently under a license from Marriott to use its trademarks.

"Our legal team is not among those that have questioned Ms. Andrews during this trial. Additionally, the witness who allegedly viewed the video of Ms. Andrews in a Nashville restaurant earlier this week is a representative for the owner and not a Marriott employee," the Marriott statement read. "We continue to be sensitive to the serious nature of this matter and remain committed to the safety and comfort of our guests."

A circuit judge in late January dismissed claims against Marriott International, agreeing with the hotel giant's contention that it was not responsible for security at one of its franchises.

Closing arguments are scheduled Friday in Andrews' suit against West End Hotel Partners, which owns the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University; management company Windsor Capital Group; and her stalker, Michael David Barrett, who is in prison serving a 30-month sentence.

In court filings, Andrews contended that the hotel and staff allowed Barrett to book a room next to hers by his request, allowing him to film her through a peephole while she was in Nashville covering a Vanderbilt football game in September 2008.

During her cross-examination on Tuesday, the defense addressed all of the endorsements -- from Diet Mountain Dew to Reebok -- that Andrews had signed since the video was released in 2009.

Erin Andrews tells court that stalking has lasting impact

"Marriott has sunk to a new, and truly disgusting, low," Nita Chaudhary, another co-founder of UltraViolet, said in a statement on Tuesday. "Comments like the ones made by their attorney today contribute to rape culture and could sway other women not to come forward with their stories."

Cristian Morosan, who teachers marketing and branding at the University of Houston's Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, said the impact on the Marriott brand depends on the outcome of the case and how it is perceived, particularly on social media and at a time when consumers are especially sensitive to security and privacy issues.

"Marriott is a very, very strong brand, they have a lot of traction with consumers," Morosan said. Consumers don't differentiate between the corporate brand and a locally owned franchise, the assistant professor added. "The franchisee is the brand, from a pure consumer perspective."

One marketing guru said Marriott could take steps, including having all-female floors, to make women guests more secure. "They should ask 'do you want women on either side, like they ask 'do you want down pillows,'" said Faith Popcorn, founder and CEO of Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve.

"They should say, 'this happened to a young woman under our roof, so we've put alerts in the rooms and nobody will ever get a (requested) room number again," said Popcorn. "I don't think the response has been empathetic."

The potential hit to Marriott's brand comes as the company faces the task of incorporating the Westin, W and Sheraton brands, following its $12.2 billion bid to buy Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in November. If it secures all the needed approvals, including from shareholders later this month, the stock-and-cash deal will create the world's biggest hotel chain -- more than 5,500 franchised or owned hotels with 1.1 million rooms.

Starwood in April had said it was exploring its strategic options as it struggled to grow as rapidly as its competitors.

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