When Big Brands Step In It

April 26th, 2017

Everyone knows that your brand is your public face so when you screw up publicly, you hurt your brand, right? Not necessarily. Brands are far more complicated than that. 

What your brand represents to its target audience and how you’ve screwed up can make all the difference. To illustrate this point, let’s look at three major brands that have recently been publicly chastised for their actions.

Pepsi for World Peace?
Pepsi and the Kendall Jenner TV spot was chastised for allegedly mocking an important right to protest and express civil discontent. They really messed up this time. Or did they?

As a known “Explorer” brand known for pushing boundaries, Pepsi does not appear to have damaged their brand. On the contrary, recent figures indicate that their brand is may be more highly favored than in the recent past, as 44 percent of Morning Consult‘s poll respondents said they had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the video. It appears as though an “Explorer” is expected to be just that – pushing limits, exploring boundaries and frontiers.

Fly the ‘Friendly’ Skies
On the other hand, United Airlines’ recent debacle over forcibly removing a paying passenger in order to transport some of their own staff could leave a major, even terminal scar on the well-known brand. But why is that?

In order for a major airline brand to thrive, they must exude an overriding sense of safety and professionalism. No one wants to fly on a huge jet operated by a lawless group of cowboys capable of wild spontaneous behavior.

By manhandling and ultimately injuring an unsuspecting customer, the whole safety and professional thing goes right out the window. Had the passenger been wielding a weapon and threatening others, dragging him off the plane would have been an act of heroism – but dragging a blameless doctor off a plane, while he tries desperately to inform his aggressors that he is needed by his patients? That’s just bad form. As we all watch the now-viral video of this event unfolding, it’s clear that the professionals in charge of safety could have prevented the entire debacle. Seriously.

Home of the Whopper
Burger King, on the other hand has been accused of making “a whopper of a mess” with their Google Home ad. Their little prank was unveiled as a 15-second ad that was designed to trigger Google Home devices into reciting the definition of a Whopper, pulled from the website Wikipedia. Aside from annoying the hell out of the folks at Google, as well as folks with Google Home devices, the King left himself open to recipe alterations with random folks adding ingredients like cyanide – not known for promoting good health. All of this sounds like a brand nightmare – wouldn’t you think?

We’re not so sure. Burger King, similar to Pepsi, is a brand expected to do the unexpected. Only time will tell, but BK’s emotional brand stock might well rise as a result of their bad boy prank.

Let’s face it – can this little contretemps really be a misstep for the folks who rose to great heights by bringing you the subservient chicken?