The good, the “brand” and the ugly of 2008

While the ugly was in plentiful supply this year, the good was a bit harder to find. It seems that this recap of the brand year that was has become an annual event. However, unlike last year this is in no particular order and while the ugly was in plentiful supply this year, the good was a bit harder to find!

And so here it is – my good, “brand” and ugly roundup for 2008!


The year would not be complete without a mention to Qantas. The venerable Australian airline continues to lose friends and provide newspaper headlines with tone deaf decisions (think compensation by seat class) and continuing safety woes. Trading in their safety position for “world’s most experienced airline” doesn’t seemed to have helped. I guess all the experience in the world won’t help if you don’t learn from it (notice new CEO’s recent denial of any safety and service issues)! They get the big fat ugly award for 2008.


Have to balance the biggest bad with my favourite brand good. Patagonia, brand winners any time, went a step further this year. Showing others what it really means to put your actions where your beliefs are, they created The Footprint Chronicles, taking customers and anyone who is interested on a journey through the cradle to cradle manufacturing of their apparel. In a lesson to everyone that transparency wins, these stories show the good and bad and the where they want to be better. A really big “good” for the idea the intent and the execution (because when quality is your call sign it better show up in everything you do).

# 3

Public transportation is a topic on many people’s minds here in Melbourne, and that puts Connex on my list. Now I know even the very best public transportation systems have periodic issues, and I am not absolving the Government for its role in the underlying capacity issues, however if Japan with its super crowded cities can move its population in a punctual and (relatively) comfortable fashion, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the same thing (hands up who else feels that when the announcement says “and Connex apologies for any inconvenience caused by these delays” they really couldn’t care less).

With escalating cancellations becoming the rule not the exception, and platforms and trains bulging during peak hour, it has become not just a transportation issue, but also a safety one. In today’s climate crisis, we need to be encouraging people to use public transportation, not giving them reasons to avoid it. Add to that the downright surly attitude of many Connex employees, and you get “brand bad” and falling.


Any discussion about brand these days wouldn’t be complete without Google. Getting a bad last year they bounced back with the super cool “Street View”. Randomly embarrassing incidents caught on film aside, anything that makes finding where you’re going easier gets an OK in my book.

Not to mention the fun to be had checking up on whether friends half way round the world have mowed their lawns and painted the fence! Seriously though, a brand improvement for Google this year as they continue on their mission to make anything that looks vaguely like information more accessible and confound the critics as they redefine “search”.


Obama. Can a person be a brand? Well, when the mention of your name pretty much anywhere in the world comes not just with recognition, but a series of associated emotions summed up by the word hope, I think the answer is probably yes. After running one of the most disciplined political campaigns in recent memory, inspiring millions of people to vote (many for the first time) and wearing the expectations of a jaded and dispirited nation on his shoulders, it remains to be seen if the brand of Obama can transcend aspiration and continue to deliver on the promise of hope… they have made a great start, but it’s early days yet on what is sure to be an interesting journey. Brand good, on the fast track to great.


Commonwealth Bank’s bizarre, unfunny and vaguely insulting ads have had at least one mention in my blog this year. Unfortunately they aren’t alone in the stakes for the strangest ads of the year, with Toyota joining the ranks and adding human cats to fake koalas. Maybe there is a new addy award being doled out for the most bizarre ad… and sure, there are plenty of people who feel that if the ad is memorable it has done its job – wrong. Just because I remember it doesn’t mean it achieves its purpose, especially when the association is WHAT THE _ _ _ _ WERE THEY THINKING! Brand uglies all around. (Feel free to add your personal most bizarre ad to this list – we all have one…)

Comm Bank ad:



Toyota ad:





Apple changes the game again with the iPhone finally landing in Oz. You know you’re doing something right when the people who love you will defend you to those who don’t. I unashamedly love my new iPhone. To quote a friend who also loves his, “isn’t this just the coolest tech device ever!” Not everyone agrees, and it hasn’t been totally smooth running, but as an in-your-face delivery of their brand, it sure doesn’t get much better. Check out the raft of wannabe’s hitting the market from BlackBerry et al if you have any questions about the impact. A big fat brand good.


Fairfax. Enough said (well not quite). In a year when strategic short-sightedness has become one of the biggest brand killers, they sit towards the top of the list of companies who have been making like an ostrich for years and now claim surprise that things just aren’t going as well as they wanted them to (perhaps only car makers do it better…).

When your business model is disappearing before your eyes, it’s time to change how you do things, and when you cede the future of your major revenue stream to others (think and SEEK etc) there aren’t enough journalists on your books to make up for the short fall. Trading the integrity of your major assets for some short-term cost cuts won’t solve the problem. Time to take your head out of the sand. A brand bad bordering on ugly.


Brands are about people knowing what you stand for and seeing it in action every day. One househould brand name has so completely lost its way that I am not sure even the people who voted for it would be able to tell you what that is. The Liberal party. Let’s leave aside the fact that the political party with mostly conservative ideals has a name that evokes exactly the opposite – that horse has bolted.

I am sure I’m not the only one noticing that the party founded on the unified principles of the centre right seems to have lost its spine. Between a merry-go-round of leadership and a strategy that doesn’t extend much beyond disagreeing with the other guys, today’s Liberal party is a shadow of its former self. Looking down on what has become of his endeavour, I am sure Robert Menzies must not be happy. I may not agree with their political bent, but it is fairly obvious that “brand Liberal” has had a brand bad year.


In the bad-timing award for this year Pepsi shows that nothing is local anymore (as if anyone should need that lesson!)

In a case of bad taste (in addition to bad-timing) their “suicide” ad for a German magazine was picked up and shared across the internet earning Pepsi a well-deserved backlash from outraged parents and psychologists and pretty much anyone who worries about the escalating teen suicide rate.

All the well-intentioned aplogies in the world can’t undo the fact that sometimes, no matter how persuasive the ad agency is, you should just say no.

The cynic in me wonders whether they planned it all along – after all, they couldn’t have bought the kind of publicity that the ad has gained through notoriety… hmmmm. Double bad Pepsi on principle.





Calling for nominations

Think something deserves to be on this list that isn’t? I am always interested in a good, brand or ugly story, so post a comment and tell us about it.

Thanks for reading this year, I appreciate it and wish you joy and peace for the year ahead.

See you again in 2009.


Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

For more Cultural Leadership blogs, click here.



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