Unwrapping Macy's: Brand Management on Reality TV

When I first saw the headline of this NY Times advertisement preview for Unwrapping Macy's, a new reality show set to appear in September on WE, I assumed it was a brand disaster waiting to happen.

Upon reading the article, I realized that it should be taken as a major branding move and/or advertising campaign with Macy's working hand in hand with the Women's Entertainment network:

Rather than featuring grumbling customers, as the A&E show “Airline” did in its portrayal of Southwest Airlines, “Unwrapping Macy’s” will, for the most part, depict the daily lives of employees.

Ron Klein, chairman of Macy’s Eastern division said, “Most reality TV is a negative experience, waiting for someone to fail,” but that “Unwrapping Macy’s” would not follow that format.

For Macy’s parent company, Federated Department Stores, the show’s timing is serendipitous. It will have its premiere just as the retailer expands into several new markets.

Serendipitous?  No.
Smart? Yes.

Though I join those who want to believe that the customer owns at least part of your brand and that companies will have to share control of their brand to succeed in today's constantly emergent media environment, I'm reminded that many scientists study chaos in order to control it and that they're getting better at it all the time.

Perhaps this reality tv show is just one early example of a company embracing relatively recent developments in order to maintain control of emergent phenomenon, a control that goes beyond establishing Internet outposts for greater visibility into consumer behavior, as did Conde Naste with Lipstick.com, and is perhaps most closely related to company controlled entities created to leverage viral phenomenon, as in the case of Hewlett-Packard.