Adventures In Brand Suicide

Graham is shocked …

… to see what some people think is good for their brand.

PEPSI: Oh God, this is the worst corporate PR disaster ever.
UNITED: Hold my beer…

“What were they thinking?” For the last few days, social media has been like an echo chamber — or something by Philip Glass or the Chainsmokers — with that phrase bouncing off the bandwidth, repeating over and over, seasoned with the occasional variant of “What the fuck were they thinking?” Pepsi and United’s forays into brand suicide were so obvious even to Joe/Joan Average that when Saturday Night Live satirized Pepsi’s commercial, they needed only to give us one end of the conversation as the hapless “director” describes to various uninvolved third parties what he is doing. In a fine performance (Beck Bennett), the actor’s facial expressions, body language,  and occasional attempts to interject told us all we needed to know of the responses from the unheard end.

 

As for United, the memes came thick and fast, including a clip from “Airplane” re-titled “United Training Manual” —


 

… and quite a few others (which as a service to our readers, and obvious easy copy, we collated in yesterday’s post, “Flying The Friendly Skies.”) On the more profane side, one late-night host came out with a parody ad, and even a competitor slipped in a sly dig.

It’s not just private industry that so vividly demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, either. Government is not immune or excluded, as the widespread but little-known policy of “lunch shaming” demonstrates:

Advocates for children say tactics that stigmatize students with lunch debts are disturbingly common. This includes throwing kids’ lunches away if they can’t pay; making students clean the cafeteria; or requiring that they wear stickers, stamps or wrist bands that indicate they can’t pay.

Well, OK, we might say — a little embarrassment for the corporate tone-deaf, a little innocent Schadenfreude for us. Except that these organizations are not our friends — not for a long time. The tone-deafness often accompanies an arrogance, a sense that we exist for them, and our job is to shut up, sit down (or not!), and be grateful. So we see them hiding behind passively-imposed arbitration clauses in EULAs that restrict your rights, or behind a few lines in a 40,000 word implied contract that say in effect, “We can legally do whatever we want to you, and you can’t touch us!” — yes, we’re looking at you, airlines. We are so used to this that the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in, as people fall over themselves to find ways to justify the PR-unjustifiable on behalf of bodies we must presume are amazed at the compliance of their “subjects.” As with the person who tweeted —

I seriously doubt passengers who filmed the @United Chicago incident involving a CDA Police Officer had crew consent. More.

But let’s not forget what triggered all this. A soft drink company attempted to co-opt a growing spirit of multi-cultural resistance to a government seen by many as capricious, mendacious, and even dangerous, alongside growing tensions with law enforcement as the evident agent of that government, to sell a carbonated beverage. A man sitting on a plane, in a seat bought and paid for, was ordered to leave to make room for airline employees, then dragged off, with injury, by armed officers. The justifications of “inclusion,” “legality,” and similar corporate excuses, pale in the glaring dissonance of the images  — remember the SNL sketch above, where the criticisms are so obvious they do not need to be voiced? Driving their company in willful, even arrogant, ignorance of that corporate blind spot has hit United’s stock and market cap hard. Perhaps there are some lines being drawn at last.

The United incident also shows off, again, the power of the smartphone-fueled citizen video journalist. There might have been a time such events could be denied, covered-up, gaslighted. But now the attempt to re-contextualize, to explain away as a “re-accommodation,” falls somewhere between lying and absurdity, a desperate corporate scurrying as the light comes on them. No wonder they have a “consent policy” on filming.

And another thing…

This Chap has seen representations from people in the United “family” that the flight in question is a rebadged regional airline, flying under contract, and thus does not “really” represent United and its values. Respectfully, No. The “real” United had its chance to distance themselves from the get-go — “…contract provider… Not standards we expect… Other contracts under review…” — the kind of rear-covering statements we’ve seen so often. But the moment United adopted the corporate-bully approach and tried to punch its way out — “…within our rights… Accepted practice… Contracts of carriage… Lawful instructions… Safety issues…” — they owned it. And at that point, whatever is coming down the pipe is all theirs.

John needs to …

… work out how to add worthwhile comment to such a worthwhile post without falling back to his pithy one line interjections, that he somehow feels will fall short on this particular occasion.

Graham says …
… just on this occasion?

But – so as to provide just a little background – back in 2009, … 21 ways to commit brand suicide had already been identified.

Of course this particular chap – singing about Rock and Roll Suicide – regularly committed ‘Brand Suicide’ – and all to his advantage – despite misgivings of his ‘advisors’.


 

But There’s More …

because of course there is the ‘fair and balanced’ (and yes the quote marks are very important and super intentional) brand of the chaps over at Fox … you know where the sexual predator Roger Aisles ruled the roost for two decades before he was ousted for his systemic and routine sexual harassment of women. At the time of course, Fox announced that it had a zero tolerance for such conduct – but now that Bill O’Reilly is now on ‘vacation’ after his show losing around 75% of its advertising in response to his philanderings – we of course understand that Fox meant zero tolerance for Aisles … not in general.

I mean this chap can’t see another explanation.

And while it certainly seems to be affecting Bill’s brand (or is it?), Fox’s seems ok … I mean the advertisers simply reallocated their funds to other Fox properties – so it didn’t cost Fox anything. Yet. Fox News is still riding high – although interesting to note that Rachel Maddow’s ratings have been beating out Bill’s for the last three weeks) – but it’s all ok – after all Fox is part of the Murdoch world … you know where The News of the World used to be – until it closed after the UK phone hacking scandal of the mid oughts. And of course was home to people like Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. Oh – and of course my favorite clown … Piers Morgan – that bastion of good taste and ‘stand up ness’.

In November 2012, he was heavily criticised in the official findings of the Leveson Inquiry, when Lord Leveson stated that comments made in Morgan’s testimony about phone hacking were “utterly unpersuasive” and “clearly prove … that he was aware that it was taking place in the press as a whole and that he was sufficiently unembarrassed by what was criminal behaviour that he was prepared to joke about it”

So here’s my question …. how many scandals have to hit an organization before its brand is really affected?

United lost $1 billion in 24 hours after the fracas the other chap described earlier. Meanwhile Murdoch’s shop seems to never be affected by scandal after scandal … is it because they write the news?

Maybe this will change things

The Fox News Channel is under investigation by federal prosecutors to determine whether it broke securities law in making payments in the sexual harassment scandal that ultimately cost former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes his job, according to a lawyer currently suing the network.

… certainly something needs to – and ideally before the UK and the EU hand over all the Sky Keys to Roopy – but it is clear that the EU team are watching the O’Reilly fall out very carefully …

European anti-trust regulators have given their blessing to a £18.5 billion ($22.9 billion) deal struck in December that would give 21st Century Fox full control over Sky.
But a more comprehensive review by U.K. media regulator Ofcom is pending, with a decision due by May 16.

Read All About It .…  essentially the News Of The Screws scandals scuppered Rupert’s Sky deal five years ago – and if there is a god – then maybe it will be scuppered again. Maybe this is how his brand will be affected?