Rob Gray, Journalist and author of ‘Great Brand Blunders, The Worst Marketing and Social Media Meltdowns of All Time… and How to Avoid Your Own’ takes us through 5 steps in avoiding brand disasters
BRANDS ARE AT once powerful and fragile. The greatest brands, carefully nurtured to be attractive and consistent, are worth billions to their owners because they have real meaning for us, their target audience. We relate to them, are reassured by what they stand for and consider them aspirational.
Yet building a new brand or ensuring an established brand remains relevant and appealing are enormous challenges. Consumers expect more from brands than ever. In today’s social media age, people feel a sense of shared ownership. That’s positive and wonderful when all’s going well. However, it’s a different matter when problems arise. Social media is a recurring factor in recent marketing disasters: it’s either where an issue caught fire in the first place or where the flames were fanned to inflict huge damage on brand reputation. So while brands are more potent today, they are also more vulnerable.
A roll-call of the world’s greatest brands including McDonald’s, Apple, Qantas, Starbucks, Nestlé, Virgin, Ikea, Microsoft and many others on the global A List can and have made a mess of their marketing from time to time. Here are the worst things a brand can do:
1. Lose faith. One of the world’s top drinks brands
got so spooked by the success of a rival that it reformulated its recipe – and then had to scramble to bring back the original product in response to howls of consumer protest.
2. Lose focus. Innovation is vital, but so too are values and consistency. Bad partnerships or diluting what you stand for lead to trouble – like the airline rebranding that so upset former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that her scornful response made national TV news.
3. Over-extend. There’s no shortage of ill-advised or stupid brand extensions, from the jar of food that provoked a backlash because it was given a ludicrous consumer-tech name to the strange case of a toothpaste brand that thought it logical to launch a line of ready meals.
4. Over-promise. A giant car manufacturer over-hyped a new series of cars so much that the reality of the launch proved very disappointing. Sales were so dire that out of desperation, consumers were offered the chance to win a pony if they signed up for a test drive.
5. Alienate its audience. Dissing President Obama, joking about sexual coercion and making light of natural disasters are just a few choice examples of errant behaviour. Offending your target audience is not a smart move.
Of course, there’s a rich vein of humour to be mined at the expense of those who have brainlessly invited disaster on themselves. But while there are laughs aplenty, my main purpose in writing Great Brand Blunders was to treat marketing errors and mishaps as an entertaining way to learn.
Get involved with the conversation by answering our poll: Which of these brands, do you believe has achieved the most ‘believable’ consumer campaign?