In 1991, a song called “Come Inside” shot up the charts with a bullet, briefly reaching No. 1 on the dance charts in the U.K. and No. 7 here in America.

The song was by a mysterious English band called Feedback Max that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. But, in truth, no such band existed.

Instead, the project was the brainchild of the Thompson Twins, a former new-wave band (complete with new-wave hairdos) that had a big international hit in 1984 with an infectious bit of ear candy called “Hold Me Now.”

By 1991, however, their star had fallen, relegated to one-hit wonder status, another cassette in the bargain bin. They had become just about the worst thing you could be as a pop band—uncool. Most folks thought they’d broken up long ago.

So, cognizant of their fallen grace, the Thompson Twins (now with more reasonable hairdos) released “Come Inside” under an assumed name—and it took off like wildfire.

But when the public found out who was behind the song, wouldn’t you know it, “Come Inside” dropped off the charts the very next week, with a bullet, into oblivion.

Think about that—the record-buying public (myself excluded) loved the song: Why should it matter who sang it?

Because we live in a world of appearances. Because perception is reality. Because branding matters.

The lesson derived from this ridiculous saga would look pretty good as a slide in a PowerPoint presentation that somebody at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has surely prepared—at least in their heads—1,000 times. A brand once toxic faces long odds.

Five years ago, I wrote a story about the future of the government-sponsored enterprises, and a high-placed Freddie Mac exec had this to say: “They’ll put a new hat on us, a smiley face, and call us new and improved. But when you peel all of the lipstick away from the pig, you’re going to find that we’ll be pretty much what we are now. Mark my words.”

This seems exactly where housing finance reform is heading, and that’s probably a good thing for our industry: Fannie and Freddie continue to dominate the market.

But another in-depth feature this month delves into another toxic brand, one that’s just entering detox and looking at a long recovery. One of the most shocking things about the Campus Crest tale is that it occurred over the past four years—a period when the student housing industry emerged as a preferred asset class and drew tons of interest from investors. It’s going to take much more than a smiley face and some lipstick to reinvent the struggling firm.

For the vast majority of apartment firms, the Internet is the true court of public opinion, and online word of mouth can make or break a brand. As ratings and review sites continue to grow in volume and importance, it’s crucial to keep your finger on the pulse of public perception.

But how can you measure your firm’s reputation across an entire portfolio? And how does your company’s online rep compare with that of your competitors? You no longer have to guess: This year, Multifamily Executive is introducing the Online Reputation Assessment© (ORA©) Power Rankings in conjunction with J Turner Research. The rankings represent the ratings and reviews of more than 48,000 apartment properties, with a statistical model that establishes a single score across multiple sites.

We’ll start by ranking the nation’s top properties, and each month, we’ll shine a spotlight on a different slice of the research—top public companies, or top properties by state, for instance.

Stay tuned.