The good, the “brand” and the ugly of 2013

The good, the “brand” and the ugly of 2013

Welcome to the seventh annual selection of brand good, brand middling and brand ugly that caught my eye in 2013.

In a departure from years past I’ve deliberately ignored the big banks, airlines and telecom providers and am taking a road a bit less travelled. So without my usual corporate piñatas and darlings and any further preamble, let’s dive right it – in no particular order…


When you build a brand that stands on reliable cars for every man and some of those cars suddenly lose power and stop at inconvenient times – like when you are driving along a road, you’ve got a problem.

When you then try and avoid the problem, pretend it doesn’t exist while you figure out if you want to admit you have a problem, chances are what was a pretty big problem just got bigger. And it did.

In the crisis management failure of the year, VW seemed to lose not just any connection to their values, but their common sense. Lurching from no comment to reluctant recall via boat loads of bad press is no one’s idea of handling things well.

Brand liable – The first rule of crisis management is not what is our financial liability, but what do our values tell us is the right thing to do.

Julia Gillard

She of the misogyny speech heard around the world left the office of prime minister much as she entered it – with Rudd on the other side of the revolving door. And as a result, in a preview of things to come, our parliamentary democracy looks more and more like the personality-driven US presidential system every election cycle.

But leaving aside for a moment your flavour of politics, as a result of the events and her actions throughout her term in office, Gillard now is a brand in her own right. And like all brands, you may love her, hate her or be overwhelmingly indifferent to the whole idea of her (replace Gillard with Apple or any cult brand and you get the idea).

Brand rejected – Steve Jobs showed rejection can be the mother of success.


Newsflash: women have Boobs. Bonds launched a new line of bras and the accompanying Boobs campaign ran afoul of the political correctness police and earned some complaints to the advertising watchdogs.

One issue, as it turned out, wasn’t the boobs, but the association Bonds has with the Breast Cancer Foundation, which some people saw as a bit of a conflict due to the boobalicious nature of the campaign. All in all it seemed like a bit of a tempest in a tea cup, and in the grand scheme of things, I can think of any number of ads and campaigns that would earn my ire ahead of this one.

Brand protest too much – If Pat Rafter playing tennis in his undies for the last decade isn’t an issue, can’t see why a few boobs should cause such a ruckus.

Social media #fails

‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’ has probably never been more true. It was a year where social media campaigns should have come with a warning label as more than one company fell prey to the playful hashtag run amok.

Who can forget the feminism-bating disaster of #kaysermaleinsider. Or the Domino’s #gamechanger that wasn’t. Or HMV social media team going rogue and live-tweeting #HMVXfactorfiring. Or any of the dozens of other fizzled campaigns, face-bads and mistweets that caused angst and probably more than a few prematurely redirected careers.

I get it. It’s hard for companies to act like people, but social media’s been around a while now. Time to engage brains before pushing the button.

Brand #fail – ‘Oops, we’re new at this’ doesn’t cut it anymore.

Toms Shoes

In a follow-up visit from last year’s list, social business poster child Toms hit a new milestone this year when they gave away their 10 millionth pair of shoes to children in need.

And not one to slow down for a minute, founder Blake Mycoskie also announced the launch of their Marketplace, giving other social businesses and entrepreneurs a place to sell their wares. All the while continuing to show that while you do have to trade to be successful (after all, commerce is built on that premise) you don’t have to trade-in what you believe.

Brand trade for good – 10 million happy children can’t be wrong.

Metro Trains

They have been on the ugly list more than once, but this year I’m happy to give Metro Trains a brand good nod for their “Dumb Ways to Die” viral video sensation – nearly 67 million views on YouTube and counting.

Take a good (slightly twisted in the best possible way) idea, match it up with great execution, an ear worm worthy ditty and the result will not only get you noticed, it will save lives. And that’s a combination well worth some praise.

Brand smart –  The only question is why don’t Metro Trains use this kind of smarts for more of their communications!


Making news is nothing new for online retail darling Kogan and this year was no different. First for the collapse of their low-cost mobile business on the back of some manoeuvring by the Darth Vader of Australian telco (you know who they are), which left customers scrambling for a replacement. And then for gate-crashing Australia’s “Click Frenzy” online sale day and earning a cease and desist (and more than a few headlines) for their trouble.

Every success has its share of failures, savvy moves and not-so-smart decisions along the way and Ruslan Kogan seems hell bent on shaking things up. So chances are the headlines will continue next year – watch out Gerry Harvey I think someone wants your crown.

Brand upstart – Don’t let customers get caught in the cross-fire.


Lambasted as everything from “weight washing” to Machiavellian deception of the highest order, one of the all-time brand value champions took a bit of a beating this year when they improbably decided to try and tackle obesity by encouraging people to get moving.

Whether you sit on the ‘they’re just trying to do the right thing and make a dent in a huge problem’ side of the argument, or you think it’s akin to the fox encouraging the hens to take a walk with him, fact remains that these big social problems need big social fixes.

And when it comes to reach and ability to influence behaviour there aren’t many better at it than Coca-Cola, so who knows, maybe then can help move a few people to put down their big gulps and take a walk.

Brand weigh in – Maybe part of the problem can be part of the solution, time will tell.

Personal brands galore 

There isn’t a “phrase of the year”, but if there was, the chances are it would be “personal brand”. Everywhere you looked people were only too happy to tell you how to get one, shine up the one you have and use it to attract others to you like flies at a Christmas barbeque.

Never was so much ado about nothing made to seem ado about something. Because when you fire the snake oil salesmen (you know who you are) and peel back the veneer, what’s left is the boring truth that you already have what you need. Stand for something. Act according to your values. Do what you say. Rinse and repeat.

Brand hype – Tom Peters has a lot to answer for.

And to close for 2013

There is always plenty to go around, so use the comments if I didn’t mention a clanger or something to celebrate close to your heart and chime in!

Each year it feels like I could write a book about good, brand and ugly things going on. In 2013, as in years past, companies went the way of the dodo and their brands right along with them. And, at the same time, new crops of people dipped into the fray willing to try their hand, finances and sanity at building something strong and resilient in changing and uncertain times (and when hasn’t that been true!).

I hope my blog provides some food for thought and inspiration for those endeavours. Many thanks for reading this year, I really appreciate it and wish you joy and peace for the year ahead.

See you again in 2014.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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