Martha Stewart Making Up For Lost Time. But Her Grab Doesn't Quite Match Her Brand.

David Kiley

A few weeks into Martha Stewart's unscripted TV show with its tepid ratings, and after announcements of Martha Stewart houses and Martha Stewart holiday music compilations, let me just say this: Slow down MS.

Let's start with the Martha Stewart homes, since that's the newest venture. A venture with KB Homes, the homebuilder, will begin marketing home designs inspired by Martha's own three homes, in a development, called Twin Lakes, in Cary, N.C. in 2006. The three home designs look okay. But here is the problem. I see three designs, each with two-car garages screaming in the front of each house. This, to me, is an aesthetic nightmare no matter how expensive the garage doors. Say what you will about Martha, but more than anything else, she stands for good taste. I'm sure KB Homes has a lot of nice people working for it. But my experience with homebuilders is that they are obsessed with one thing--jamming the largest number of homes onto the land they have purchased no matter the aesthetic result. That's why so many homes in America have ugly one and two car garages attached and in the front of the house instead of on the side or around back. If Martha really wanted her brand to mean something on these houses, she would have stipulated some things about the house that reflected her attention to design and home environs. Bigger closets and laundry rooms are nice, but home designers are doing those things anyway. It would have been nice to have a story about how she insisted on certain things that builders don't like to do, but which deliver great aesthetics, like: garages not in the front of the houses; built-in organizers in the garage and basements; master bedrooms with plenty of space for King size beds and sitting areas; a fruit tree on every lot.

My point: That Martha is so busy making up for lost time since she was sprung from jail, I don't think she is properly minding her brand. "Martha Houses" reminds me of Lee Iacocca and Frank Sinatra putting their faces on pasta sauce, or Dr. Phil slapping his name on a bunch of iffy vitamins.

Martha, too, is releasing holiday music with Sony, compilations she has chosen, which will come with a recipe cards et al. I'll reserve judgement on this until I see the selections. But to mean anything at all, there should be some unusual and unique recordings that aren't commonly found. If Bing Crosby's White Christmas is on it, you'll know she is just flapping her arms for the money.

Martha's TV show is getting better after a few episodes. And, frankly, I like it better than Donald Trump's Apprentice. But it got off to such a bad start with negative word-of-mouth that it isn't quite finding its audience. Toward that end, executive producer Donald Trump hinted on Don Imus's morning show today that a second season of Martha is far from locked in because of the iffy ratings. The Trumpster seemed to stop short from saying outright that it won't go into a second season, saying instead that it will be up to NBC.

Martha Stewart branded furniture is well done. Except that I hear reports that as people go shopping for furniture from discount sources in North Carolina, expressing a desire for her stuff, retailers are able to get the same stuff from the manufacturer without Martha's label on it for a lot less. That's not minding the brand either.

Martha Stewart is a valuable brand. And as a formerly single man with little sense of how colors go together in a home design, I often defaulted to a Martha recommendation from her line. She shouldn't be so casual with that kind of brand power.

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