Close Call! Branding Horror Stories!

Branding horror stories are a dime a dozen.

As the face of the company, a lot of time and money go into establishing your brand’s image. Unfortunately, it’s the simplest of branding mistakes that can have the most profound impact.

Whether it’s an established company’s attempts at rebranding (i.e. RadioShack marketing itself as “The Shack” or Gap alienating its loyal customer base with a drastically different logo), a product that doesn’t work (See Apple Maps—“the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever,”—taking tourists in Australia 70km in the wrong direction), or a good old ‘lost in translation’ situation (Ford failing to check what Pinto means in Brazilian Portuguese), branding mistakes often times bring serious repercussions.

With that in mind, branding operates in a grey area where every now and then bad publicity can be leveraged to a company’s advantage.

Take Coca-Cola for instance. By 1985, the soft drink giant had been suffering loses in market share. Since more and more were choosing the sweeter taste of Pepsi, diet soft drinks, or non-cola beverages, it seem like the perfect time for a new and improved can of Coke.

Long story short, all hell broke loose. Protest groups popped up across the country; consumers began buying every last can that they could get their hands on (one guy in Texas even filled his basement with $1,000 worth of Coke), and Coke’s consumer hotline went from 400 to 1,500 calls a day.

Considered one of the biggest branding mistakes of all time, the original formula was reintroduced as “Coca-Cola Classic” a mere 79 days after New Coke’s launch, resulting in soaring sales and solidifying the brand as a cultural icon. In the two days following the announcement of Coca-Cola classic, the company received a record 31,600 telephone calls on their hotline.

Although some speculate that New Coke was introduced just to stimulate sales of the original, the point here is that the company managed to use the publicity as an opportunity to remind consumers why they drink Coca-Cola in the first place.

Furthermore, with the soft drink back in the spotlight, Coca-Cola positioned its return-to-form as part of its company mission to inspire employees to take intelligent risks, and credit such obstacles for the brand’s longevity.

Similarly, Coke’s strategic partner McDonald’s was recently met with backlash on social media after introducing Happy, their new Happy Meal brand ambassador. But whereas, Coke listened to the people’s criticisms—McDonald’s relished in it by responding with Happy Tweets of their own:

In fact, the fast food giant even went as far as to release a statement in response to the haters explaining how social media is a great place to express opinions “… but not all comments reflect the broader view.”

And they were right.

Happy succeeded in capturing the attention of the media. Afterall, for every hater who tweeted or shared Happy’s image (not factoring in the news outlets who reported on the backlash) was another person giving McDonald’s advertising they did not have to pay for.

Sometimes, there really is no such thing as bad publicity.


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