The Good, the “Brand” and the (plentiful) Ugly of 2010

Welcome to the fourth annual roundup of brands good, brands bad and brands in between. Drawn from the annals of my blogs and news media across the year, I didn’t think it was possible for “brand ugly” to get uglier this year.

Just shows that if you aren’t careful things can always get worse! Thankfully a few bright spots light the way and give me hope that all that is brand is not completely held hostage to the bottom-line. So in no particular order I give you this year’s crop.

#1 The Banks. It is hard not to be a broken record where the banks are concerned. And maintaining their position of distinction at #1, the big 4 gave a whole new meaning to being out of touch with customers this year. NAB seems to lead the way with technology failures and customer service gaffs making a mockery of their “more give less take” positioning line. However, the other banks are far from blameless, constantly raising interest rates and complaining about the “cost of funds” while continuing to post quarterly profits that would make Midas a happy camper. So in being “determined to be indifferent” they will continue to “take more, give less” because they “don’t live in your world” and they are indeed “a bank you can’t bank on”!

Profits are a great thing when used well and banks are after all for-profit businesses. But when those profit margins are more like those of the bloated resource sector than other global banking sectors, perhaps a bit more investment in delivery of your services might be called for. Hey, they just might avoid costly and damaging issues like corrupt files taking down the entire network for days. Just a thought. Brand ugly and getting uglier with every extra rate rise.

# 2 Qantas. Denial is a fine strategy but I’m not sure how long the string of “unrelated” engine failures and other issues can go on before someone connects the dots to over a decade of systematically undermining the practices and policies of maintenance and engineering through outsourcing and cost-cutting. And whether that is the cause or not, the very public string of ongoing near misses continues to undermine Qantas’ long-held brand position of safety as their number one priority. Recently the rot seems to be spreading to Jetstar with pilots publicly questioning safety practices and maintenance issues playing havoc with travel schedules. Brought back from last year’s “Hall of Infamy” for a very Brand ugly year.

#3 Facebook. It seems every time I turn around someone else wants me to join Facebook. Not going to happen, but world domination seems underway irrespective of whether I join the revolution or not. And at 500 million active users and counting, there seems to be few parts of life that Zuckerberg and his mine of user data can’t or won’t go. For the time being, with a movie about the rise of the network and a Time Magazine “person of the year” nod under his belt Zuckerberg continues his march. Time will tell if that’s a good thing or if people decide they really “don’t want to be friends with their butter!” Brand good (500 million people can’t be all wrong).

#4 BP. They can’t have been a more brand ugly year than was had by BP. No need to rehash the details, but suffice to say it may take longer for them to salvage their public reputation than it will for people to start eating Gulf shrimp again. Whether they have learned the lesson of aligning what they do with what they say in order to avert a repeat in another location – only time will tell. Most certainly the final costs on this brand flameout are still being counted and won’t be known for some time.

#6 Toms Shoes. The 1,000,000 happy feet earn social business enterprise Tom’s Shoes a brand very, very good. In the beginning giving a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes sold didn’t seem like it would be much of a sustainable business model. A few years down the track, Tom’s has been embraced across the planet and is today forging even more opportunities by partnering with like-minded enterprises on initiatives such as funding clean water in developing countries.

#7 David Jones. Sexual harassment is bad enough, when it is an open “secret” within the organisation it takes on a whole cultural aspect that rightfully brought down the CEO, the weight of public opinion and deservedly tarnished the crown of Australia’s leading retailer. After a landmark settling legal case that changed the complexion of the issue in executive suites and at board tables around the nation, it remains to be seen if it was indeed just one bad apple or the tree that is rotten. In the meantime I have no plans to return to the hallowed halls of DJs any time soon. Brand disgusted.

#8 Toyota. It’s always a bad idea to become complacent about your core purpose and nowhere was that more apparent this year than in the string of recalls that decimated Toyota’s long-standing reputation for quality. Although initially in denial and slow to respond, public apologies have gone some way to neutralising the negative ramifications. It remains to be seen if the practices within Toyota that caused the problem have been addressed, although recent news of additional recalls suggest we haven’t seen the end of this one quite yet. Brand time to act.

#9 Oprah. Three million dollars seemed like a high price to pay for a TV show to come to town, but when the TV show is Oprah you could be talking the cheapest and most effective tourism dollars spent since Paul threw a shrimp on the barbie. With a worldwide audience headed for the 100 million mark, and her golden stamp of approval all but guaranteed to sell out whatever it is attached to, Oprah could single-handedly rescue Aussie tourism from the GFC doldrums. Unfortunately even Oprah can’t make that flight across the Pacific go any faster, but with her golden say-so to encourage them, more than a few might be more willing to take it on and see what our wide brown land has to offer. Brand wait and see.

#10 Wikileaks. Whether they are the brand you hate to love or the brand you love to hate, no one can deny that 2010 has been a seminal year for Wikileaks and founder Julian Assange. From a publishing footnote to the most talked about story on the planet, Wikileaks have ridden a wave rarely experienced by another organisation and along the way they have ignited a global discussion about government, secrets and the public’s right to know.

From independent “hacktivists” taking on and taking down the corporate websites of VISA and Mastercard, to public calls for Assange’s assassination from conservative political commentators, and hydra like appearance of over 500 mirror sites in response to wikileaks.org being taken offline, this story has major Hollywood movie all over it. You just can’t make this stuff up. From where I sit: brand good on the path to brand great (but I am sure on this one opinions will vary)!

#11 SME Brands. My hat goes off to all of you out there who do the good work everyday of making and keeping promises and keeping customers happy. Who do it with honest intent and without headlines or any kind of wide acclaim. Who lead by “brand good” example just going about your business everyday. It is your brands and companies that help keep my passion alive – and for that I thank you.

Also once again, many thanks for reading this year, I appreciate it and wish you joy and peace for the year ahead.

See you again in 2011.

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.

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