Taking Stock of America’s “Most Damaged Brands”

Damaged BrandsIf you were to ask people to identify the brands that they view in negative terms, chances each one would readily name at least one.

The reasons why a brand loses its reputation can be varied: a botched product introduction … bad corporate leadership … a poor response to a crisis.

But the net effect is usually the same: The damage takes only a short time to occur, and it can take years for the brand to recover (if ever).

Which brands are viewed as the “most damaged” in the United States right now? Recently, the staff at equity analysis firm 24/7 Wall Street put their collective heads together and came up with a group of nine brands that they feel qualify for the dubious “top honors.” They are:

  • Apple
  • Best Buy
  • Blackberry/Research in Motion
  • Boeing
  • Groupon
  • Hyundai
  • JCPenney
  • J.P. Morgan Chase
  • Martha Stewart

I find this list pretty much spot on. Most of them would probably be on anyone’s list:

Best Buy logoBest Buy – Its big box stores function well as a place to “showroom” appliances and electronics for consumers … who then head home to purchase the same products online at lower prices.

Blackberry / Research in Motion logoBlackberry Speaking personally as an owner of a Blackberry smartphone, is there any brand whose products have been more disappointing to its loyal users than this one? I doubt it.

Boeing logoBoeing – The highly touted Dreamliner 787 passenger jet has been delayed for years. Many consumers appear to be nervous about the model’s design, and recent developments portend … more delays.

Groupon logoGroupon Groupon’s place in business history may be as the ultimate example of a dotcom-era “glorious failure.” Its business model, wherein merchants sign up for a scheme that’s guaranteed to lose them money, had to be “too bad to be true.”

JCPenney logoJCPenney I’ve blogged before about the predicament of this department store brand. In a stunning series of missteps, attempting to attract a completely different demographic of shopper while simultaneously dissing its loyal customer base turned out to be a sure recipe for damaging the Penneys brand – possibly irreparably. The odds are better than 50/50 that this store chain will now follow Montgomery Wards into retail oblivion.

Martha Stewart logoMartha Stewart Take an iconic business celebrity and send her to prison for insider trading. Meanwhile, her lifestyle media company is hammered by social media (Pinterest and all the rest), while television programming is splintering into more and more micro-segments thanks to the Internet and an explosion of new programming options for viewers. Is this brand even relevant anymore?

The remaining brands – Apple, Hyundai, J.P. Morgan – are ones that I feel have more inherent strengths and should be able to bounce back from recent setbacks.  Provided, of course, that they make all the right moves and avoid any new pitfalls.

What are your thoughts? Would you nominate any other “damaged” brands for inclusion on the 24/7 Wall Street list? (I thought of Sears for one …)  Feel free to share your thoughts here.

Dealing with all those blankety-blank ads.

In a world awash with advertising messages screaming at consumers from seemingly every nook and cranny, some companies go to great lengths to stand out from the crowd.

The most recent "extreme" example of this comes from Hyundai’s financial services subsidiary business, which purchased $2.2 million worth of advertising space recently in a new subway station in South Korea — essentially all of the available real estate — then populated the large white panels with … practically nothing.

As transit passengers move through the new station, they encounter giant advertising spaces on the walls that are covered by 95% white space, with only one small photo image plus the company logo to hint at what is being promoted.

No doubt, the goal of this “way-less is more” approach is to draw attention to the advertising precisely because of its minimalist message.

After all, it’s different. Unexpected. Even irreverent.

But is it working? Viewing photos of the subway station interior reveals that the largely blank advertising wall signs do attract attention to themselves in a kind of perverse way. They convey a sense of something unfinished, unbalanced, and perhaps a bit unsettling.

I’m reminded of 20th Century American composer John Cage’s famous work titled “4 minutes 33 seconds” which is — you guessed it — four and a half minutes of complete silence. Perhaps not surprisingly, this work got more media attention for Cage than any of his previous compositions ever had — even as one critic quipped that while the quality of the piece itself was simply outstanding, the premiere performance itself could have used a bit more vivaciousness on the part of the players.

What all this shows is how people try to “cut through the clutter” today is the same as has been done for years: Run as far as possible in the opposite direction while lassoing some valuable publicity along the way.

Based on those criteria, it looks like Hyundai has scored pretty well on this one.