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What’s in a Name?

Marian Salzman 23 Oct 2011

It’s been almost three years since we first heard about Bernie Madoff and his Machiavellian Ponzi scheme that ruthlessly cheated people out of millions of dollars. But now that Stephanie Madoff Mack (the widow of Bernie’s son Mark, who hung himself last December) has published an autobiography, The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life, we’re hearing about it again. What really is in a name, when it comes to restoring a reputation and healing a family that now has to live without a husband and father?

We are all way too familiar with the tell-all book about family as a means to fame, fortune and defamation of character. But will this book do the opposite and clear the name Madoff for the children and grandchildren—and bury Bernie alive in the process? Will the Madoff name ever be able to make a dinner reservation, rent a car or get a drivers license without causing distress or judgment?

Clearly Mark’s widow is fighting back with her tome and accompanying interview schedule, and, as expected, it ain’t pretty. Bernie is portrayed as an OCD clean freak whose snarky comments on everything from the hired help to his daughter-in-law’s pregnancy weight will further revile. And Ruth Madoff is exposed as a youth- and weight-obsessed power wife whose tendency to sprinkle salt all over her food so she would not continue eating and who shouted racial epithets at staff are nothing short of disgusting and further proof of a diluted and destroyed brand.

Look at pictures of this family from years ago, and you’d think American dream. But pictures never tell the real story; the words of this sure-to-be bestseller will be a potent reminder of how things are never really what they seem. As a marketing and PR professional and watcher, it’s hard not to look at the Madoff name as a brand. When a brand becomes tarnished, the only way to win back respect from a public entirely too fed up with what that name represents is to tell the truth. And like most brands in need of some serious spin control, accountability is everything—and Madoff Mack, who began the rebranding by using a new last name even before her husband committed suicide, blames Bernie 100 percent for the destruction of not only the lives of all those he took money from, but also from those who should have mattered most to him: his family.

It might be too late for real damage control when it comes to saving the Madoff name, but perhaps sharing her side of things will allow Madoff Mack to hold her head high once again and move on, and for Mark’s four kids to be able to make their own names in the future. After all, it was Bernie Madoff’s sons who turned him in.

Unfortunately, that act also ensured that the name Madoff would represent horror, shame, greed. There is simply no way to spin what happened in the house of Madoff. It needs a rebrand, reboot or rename.

What’s in a name (as brand) still stings when it comes to the horrible acts of the father. But will this book save what little is left for those still standing? And what name will Madoff Mack go by after the royalty checks let her reboot? Real success is when she stands tall.

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