2009 – The year of brands living dangerously

1092504_thin_iceThis year is going to deliver a bumper crop of Australian brand faux pas to all those marketing lecturers and brand consultants who have a book idea in the making. Actually, just in the last 2 months, we’ve seen some spectacular mess-ups which have left many of us in the marketing world wondering why, oh why, these things are happening.

Interestingly, a lack of social media understanding on behalf of advertising agencies and the companies in question has played a huge role in fanning the flames under each one of these cases.

Kraft’s iSnack2.0 debacle seemed to reflect a misunderstanding about where the world of communications and technology is at. It made an unintended joke of something we’re really quite serious about, our Vegemite. And the community bit back with YouTube spoofs, cartoons, countless online comments, and national and international media attention.

A second, and more recent case is that of Toyota’s Yaris advertisement, not an Australian brand per se but created for the Australian market. Toyota choose to work with Saatchi&Saatchi, who began by inviting people, via Facebook, to create an ad for Yaris. There’s a long story, by Tim Burrowes on Mumbrella, about how the final ad came to be chosen (and it wasn’t from the original Facebook call to action which received no interest) which you can read here. Essentially they managed to select something that was puerile, offensive and damaging to the brand. As Burrowes points out, advertising agencies need to understand how social media really works and “start learning about it for themselves, rather than using their clients as guinea pigs”. Somehow in the rush to use social media, everyone involved forgot about maintaining the integrity of the Toyota brand.

Finally, a disaster close to our hearts given we’re talking about banking in one of our own online research communities. Westpac, within a week, managed to up its interest rate by almost double the RBAs rise, then go on to explain its actions with a naïve animation and poor media performances from its top executives. In the past actions like this might have blown over quickly, but with the video available online in so many places, Westpac has not only managed to alienate its own mortgage customers, it’s managed to taint its brand for the wider market. And, for all the other banks, Westpac has just delivered a nice Christmas present – by sliding a couple of rungs down the brand reputation ladder.

Other than providing us with entertainment and ‘oh my goodness’ moments, these brand disasters surely point to a need for companies to stop and think more seriously about creating sustainable and respected brands. And not treat customers as monkeys.

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