In today’s connected world very little innovation remains unique, ideas, design and products are replicated instantaneously, manufactured at speed and spew forth into the paths of a shopaholic world. The last remaining bastion of difference is the brand.
The most powerful, valuable and well guarded asset on every Fortune 500’s balance sheet. How then can so many big companies get it so wrong? Here is our list of the top ten brand fails.
10. Coca-Cola Co
In November 2011 Coca-Cola left its millions of brand loyal customers seeing red with the launch of its seasonal promotional can. The mega brand, in its wisdom, decided to remove the iconic red from its regular cola can for Christmas and launch a completely white can – an initiative that lasted all of one month.
Customers complained that the Coke tasted different, many returned their purchases to the store thinking they had mistakenly purchased Diet Coke whilst the majority just proclaimed that messing with the red coca cola can was testament to sacrilege.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson said the company had been seeking a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention and clearly going white did just that, but not quite in the way they expected.
In January 2012 McDonalds attempted to build on their brand equity with a crowd sourced campaign on twitter. The idea was to create and promote #McDstories on twitter, in the belief that this would inspire satisfied customers to tweet heart-warming stories about their experiences at McDonalds.
Sadly the hash turned to bash as disgruntled customers and the hate brigade posted merrily their #McDstories, which is still alive and well and full of disgruntled customers.
We’re pretty sure McDonalds isn’t lovin’ this one.
Some brands just never learn and best demonstrated by Clairol, who in 1979 launched a yoghurt-based shampoo aptly named ‘A touch of Yoghurt’. Not surprisingly the idea of washing you hair with yoghurt didn’t really do it for most consumers.
Not only did it fail as a shampoo, but it also failed as a yoghurt – there were many cases of customers mistakenly eating the new shampoo and becoming quite ill as a result.
What makes this brand disaster even more remarkable is that Clairol had launched a shampoo that also failed three years earlier called the look of buttermilk.
7. The Ford Motor Company
Dubbed the Titanic of motorcars, the Ford Edsel is one of the biggest brand disasters around. Failure stemmed from ill-informed marketing decisions and a radical new design approach.
The first of these was the name itself picked from a list of 10,000 possibilities by the company’s then Chairman. Edsel, may well have been the name of Henry Ford’s son, but a name that had already been tested with consumers and evoked associations with weasels and pretzels – far from ideal.
The strap line ‘the Edsel is coming’ along with a total image ban by Ford in all advertising and by dealerships until launch day, fueled significant anticipation, which appeared to work.
At launch, Dealerships were full of excited prospective buyers, but Ford underestimated that the car simply did not meet expectations and could not live up to the marketing hype created.
The design polarised a conservative late 1950s marketplace and attracted comments ranging from the problematic – “It looks like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon” to the insulting “the front-end grille was less like a horse collar (the design description), and more like a toilet seat” to the down right disturbing, culminating in the grille looked like a ‘vagina with teeth’.
Ford had proclaimed they would manufacture 200,000 Edsels in year one, around five percent of the market. Year one sales were a mere 64,000 and two years later in 1960-sales were a meager 2,846 – the end of the Ford Edsel.
In October 2010 Gap launched a new modern logo design replacing the familiar and classic blue logo. A barrage of criticism instantly hit the brand. Die-hard brand loyalists simply hated the change and took to the Internet to voice their anger. A fake twitter account provided constant pokes at the brand and the redesign.
“This is what happens when you take a company field trip to a screening of Helvetica. Damn you Gary Hustwit!”
Then, unofficial redesign competitions began to emerge and Gap seeing this as a way out attempted to capitalize on these. On Facebook the company claimed the new design was actually some kind of crowd sourcing project and they were really looking for free design help from consumers.
Two days later the company made a complete u-turn, ditched the new design and ran crying home to the old logo.
5. The Post Office
For 300 years the Post Office had been known as the Post Office in the United Kingdom but on the January 9 2002 that all changed. The then Chief Executive John Roberts announced the British institution would now be known as Consignia. This name, he added, was ‘modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate’ to the rapidly evolving organisation.
An explanation behind the name from the branding agency, ‘It’s got consign in it. It’s got a link with insignia, so there is this kind of royalty-ish thing in the back of one’s mind, and there’s this lovely dictionary definition of consign which is “to entrust to the care of” didn’t win over the public of the media.
Many thought is sounded like a deodorant or aftershave, others an electricity company and the BBC famously described the fiasco as ‘the most notorious ever Post Office robbery – that of the name itself.’
For a brand losing up to one million pounds a day this was not the change they needed and within eighteen months the decision was made to dump the new name.
The market leading Kodak was constantly under attack from new entrants but remarkably failed every time to react to repel these threats.
The first major assault on the brand came in the form of Fuji who introduced low cost film to the world. Fearing they would loose margin, Kodak ignored the price aggressor and simply handed them 17% of the global film market.
More remarkable though is Kodak’s inability to come to terms with the digital landscape despite actually creating the first digital camera in 1975. They saw the potential of what they had, realized what it would do to their traditional film market and dropped the Digital Camera idea instantly instead of becoming the pioneer in digital technology.
When they finally did enter the Digital Camera marketplace they hit number one briefly on the back of their powerful photographic brand. However again they could not keep pace with the speed of development of Digital Cameras and their more cost effective Japanese competitors.
Kodak was losing $60 on every digital camera it sold as well as watching, not the demise, but the death of its traditional film business.
3. United Airlines
In 2009 Canadian country musician Dave Carroll was forced by United Airlines to check in his $3500 Taylor guitar. Waiting to disembark a passenger looking out of the window at the United baggage handlers offloading the checked luggage exclaimed, “they’re throwing guitars out there”.
Sure enough, on reclaiming his precious cargo, Dave found his guitar was indeed damaged. For more than a year Carroll’s claim that the airline should fix his guitar was met with indifference and shunted from department to department.
So Dave and a few muso mates recorded a very infectious, twangy song simply titled “United breaks guitars”. Inevitably, the video went viral. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo
So rather than pay the $1200 in damages the United brand was subjected to the video receiving close to13 million views, the publishing of a book simply titled United breaks guitars and Dave Carroll becoming a highly sought after social media speaker on the back of the brand’s behavior.
2. Coca-Cola Co
In 1985 Coca-Cola made the extraordinary decision to terminate its most popular soft drink, Coke and replace it with a different product it would market as New Coke. On 23rd of April New Coke was launched and unbelievably the production of classic coke ceased in a move that has unanimously been described as the biggest marketing disaster of all time.
Coke drinkers reacted vehemently and boycotted the brand wholesale. For a brand that had told customers it was the real thing and Coke is it to then apparently say they has got it wrong and needed a new product was blasphemous.
The decision was driven by aggressive and continued campaigns by Pepsi to undermine the taste of Coke. The famous and long running Pepsi challenge campaign saw Coke drinkers blind folded and tasting both products with the powerful claim “7 out of 10 Coke drinkers prefer Pepsi” in the UK and “More Americans prefer Pepsi” in the US.
On the 11th of July 1985, a mere eighty days since New Coke was launched Roberto Goizueta Coca-Cola’s Chairman famously said ‘We have heard you,’ and Coke went back to its original formula under the Classic Coke banner.
At the height of its existence Enron was not only one of the biggest companies in the world with 21,000 employees and offices in 40 countries but its brand was a shining corporate star. Enron won Fortune magazine’s ‘Most Innovative Company in America’ six years running, and was always high in the rankings in that magazine’s ‘Best Companies to Work For’.
Easy to do if you lie, which was basically what Enron’s entire brand identity and culture was built upon.
The Enron brand is probably the most infamous and broken brand in the world and unlikely to be beaten for many years to come. So there you have it – don’t tell lies!
Nick Baylis is a founding partner and creative mastermind at Post Influence Group, a creative agency based in Auckland, NZ.