Branding is a crucial part of modern business. As companies grow, they meticulously cultivate an image which suits their products and character. They reach out to customers, get to know their needs, and attract followers in return. But it can all disappear in the blink of an eye.
This blog is about how fragile brand reputation can be and what we think companies can do in response. Before we get into our case studies, let’s think for a second about the wider context.
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As the market has become driven more by social media and online opinion, every move brands make has become more important. When mistakes are made, companies can see their brand’s reputation collapse overnight – sending them into a tailspin of denial, desperation, and, afterwards, hard work in order to recover.
And, in a more positive sense, good brand reputation management is a key driver of sales growth. As people come to respect the content produced by a brand, they engage more, which leads to more sales.
So your brand marketing team has an incredibly important role to play, and when they get things wrong, it could mean curtains. Don’t believe us? Here are some instances where brands probably wished they could turn back time.
Back in January 2017, the Cartoon Network sought to market its Aqua Teen Hunger Force show with a series of LED artworks located strategically around Boston. But when authorities identified these installations as possible improvised explosives, the joke didn’t seem so clever. The network survived, but it’s a cautionary tale.
In the 1990s, Martha Stewart was a cookery superstar; her company was a stellar performer. That all changed when she was convicted of insider trading in 2004. Her brand reputation has never recovered, but she just can’t seem to step back, making it tough to restore the company’s image.
American Apparel is another example of how a rogue CEO can ruin a brand’s image. In this case, Dov Charney was sued for sexual harassment by a group of employees, and this was followed up by a separate lawsuit for violent conduct against a store manager. For many people, this has turned them off the once seemingly forward-looking retailer – quite understandably.
Over in Europe, VW was once a byword for reliable engineering. Now, however, people associate it more with fixing emissions tests and evading regulations. Since it was revealed that the company was gaming diesel tests in 2015 (an act for which VW failed to show real contrition), the company has not recovered its shine… and will likely struggle to do so.
When you’re locked in competition with Apple, the last thing you need is a flagship phone which starts to explode – but that’s what happened with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The actual problem was relatively rare, but viral videos and social media made this case of product recall a genuine humiliation for the Korean tech giant.
In 2018, United Airlines was hit by a double whammy of social media fiascos. First, a video showed a man being forcibly removed from a flight to make way for maintenance staff. Secondly, the CEO actually praised his staff for manhandling the customer. Not a good look.
Pepsi famously got it all wrong when they released a video featuring model Kendall Jenner playing the role of peacemaker in a racism protest. What started as a well-meaning sketch became a nightmare when the finished video outraged Black Lives Matter activists – and pretty much everyone else – owing to how it made light of such an important socio-political movement.
When New York cab drivers went on strike in 2018, Uber thought it could win some favour by offering discounts to stranded New Yorkers, which it did by suspending its surge pricing. But this just made them look like heartless capitalists, allowing competitors to benefit.
Sometimes, social media brand fails can result from companies being too open. For instance, T-Mobile Austria landed in trouble when a customer support staffer admitted that technicians could see elements of user passwords. Naturally, security-conscious mobile users found this pretty worrying, and the company has never really shaken off a local reputation for poor security.
Finally, we need to mention Gerald Ratner. The British jewellery tycoon was once asked about how he could sell his products so cheaply. In response (and publicly), Ratner called the products “total crap”. Within days, the once-prosperous chain was had obviously taken a hit, and it has never truly recovered.
People often think that these disasters won’t happen to them. They trust their marketing team’s ability to judge social media posts and say the right thing, and they believe in their general ability to deal with crises without destroying their brand.
However, the truth is that while every business needs to work hard to strengthen its brand, it also has to be responsible. That’s why it makes sense to commission high-quality branded content which is ‘disaster-proof’.
At greatcontent, we are experts in avoiding brand catastrophes. But we’re even better at positively promoting brands via engaging content. So if you want to promote your business without fiascos, contact our content production agency and we’ll be happy to help.
Text: Sam Urquhart