Category Archives: fixing brand problems

Oh Say, Kanye See….









Via your classmate Vincent:

When you hear “brand,” you often think of a corporate brand image. With Pepsi and United Airlines recently making headlines with brand blunders, is it time corporations take some inspiration from individuals who have been able to make negative press a positive thing? A recent article on ( essentially praises Kanye West for his ability to draw attention to himself – arguing that any PR is good PR. Anyone who has watched his interviews might conclude that he is borderline sociopathic; but is he really? He might just have an absolutely perfect understanding of what it means to attract attention and garner more buzz for his upcoming business ventures and music production.
His famed wife, Kim Kardashian, knows how to do the same. Sure, she’s had a tape or two (not that I’ve seen them) and tons of controversial imagery released to the public over the years but what remains true is people want to know what she’s up to. This can’t be any better for her brand. I think one thing to note about all these individuals is their ability to stand out, and remain consistent and true to their brand: Kanye West will always be Kanye and Kim will be Kim.
Is it an individual’s values that we are attracted to, or more so the fact that they are who they are and the public almost rewards them for their unique characteristics? See Donald Trump for further supporting evidence. In the article, president and CEO of a global marketing agency JWT says “it’s a matter of being able to find and activate those consumers to see who you are,” and “that doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. It does take a lot of effort”. Is this something that corporate giants can take home and learn from? Are those millions of dollars in ad-campaigns going to the right place or has the internet completely changed the way a business should develop and maintain it’s brand?

Keep Calm, and Carry On (Buying at Reitmans)


Happier days: Markle as Reitmans Brand Ambassador in the fall of 2016

Via classmate Sheena:

Meghan Markle has ended her relationship as brand ambassador for Canadian women’s retailer, Reitmans. The star of ‘Suits,’ more recently making headlines as Prince Harry’s girlfriend, said goodbye to the brand she signed on with in 2015. Meghan Markle was brought on board to inject a youthful refresh of the Reitmans brand. It was part of a strategy for the retailer to target younger customers to buy its apparel and re-energize the Reitmans brand, without “alienating the older women who still make up a core market.”

Will Meghan Markle’s split from Reitmans be detrimental to the brand, or will the brand benefit?

I suspect that Reitmans will see a bump in sales and brand awareness in the short term given the media is widely reporting on Meghan Markle ending her relationship with the brand. Media reports speculate the reason for the split is because Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s engagement is imminent. It’s worth noting that had Meghan Markle ended her relationship with the brand and Prince Harry not been part of the equation, there likely would have been few or no media reports about this endorsement deal ending.

Reitmans will certainly benefit from the added media exposure, and the free buzz generated from the news coverage will help give the brand worldwide exposure. For example, media in Britain have latched on to the story, a place where Reitmans isn’t sold (although there are close ties between Canadians and fashion retail in the UK: the Weston family’s empire includes department stores Selfridges and Miss Selfridges).

As Reitmans’ brand ambassador, Meghan Markle would have increased brand awareness and attracted the younger customers Reitmans was targeting – so, in the long term, and in order to continue their brand strategy, the brand will need to find in its next ambassador someone who can both appeal to women of all ages. However, it is unlikely that Reitmans will benefit in the long term should Megan Markle and Prince Harry get engaged, as Markle’s celebrity didn’t have sufficient brand recognition or momentum during the time she served as brand ambassador for Reitmans for it to carry on.


Note to Samsung: Don’t Screw This Up

Galaxy Note 7

Via your classmate Shashin:

In August 2016, Samsung introduced the newest addition to its popular Note Phone series: The Note 7. Boasting moderate improvements from the last Note Series, the Note 7 came with a wide range of features and an extensive battery capacity. The tech world rejoiced, for a while.

Within a few days, news of overheating and exploding batteries started coming to light. By mid-September, Samsung stopped selling the Note 7 and issued a voluntary recall of devices sold before Sept/15th. Samsung tried to identify the root cause and fix the devices before reselling them, but the problem persisted. By the end of the year, Samsung was forced to pull all Note 7 products from the market and reimbursed the customers in exchange for the devices.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review highlights Samsung’s recovery from this fiasco, and predicts that in the long-term, the brand will not only survive, but thrive. The author highlights 3 key insights into the Samsung brand:

  1. A large, loyal base of existing customers insulates the brand.
  2. Geographically identified brands bounce back quickly.
  3. The Note 7 crisis is limited to a single Samsung product and is self-contained.

The issue around the Note 7 batteries and Samsung’s reaction to it epitomizes why customer experience and brand management are critical to a company’s survival. Having a large base of customers helps to insulate a brand from rapid market loss. In Q2 of 2016, Samsung sold over 78M smartphones. Including all the products that Samsung sells, the company’s consumer base would be ~1B customers. During the recall period, customers chose to replace the defective devices with brand new Note 7 devices, further evidence that loyalty runs deep in Samsung’s base. Further, Samsung’s speedy response and ownership of the issue gave consumers additional confidence in the brand and helped them look past its transgression. Given a history of successful and popular product offerings, the loyal customer base will quickly put the Note 7 debacle behind them.

If this issue plagued a smaller brand without a large, loyal customer base, then then negative publicity would have decimated the company. In Samsung’s case, the culmination of having a loyal customer base and being proactive while dealing with the crisis will help ensure the brand will rebound in the long term.

Do you agree?

“Ummm, NOT Okay, Burger King.”

bk-20170419102456900Google home is a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant, developed as a competitor to Amazon’s Alexa. As with its Google Glass offering, you summon help from Google Assistant with the phrase, “Okay, Google…”

Creatives at Burger King decided to leverage the new technology in an innovative–but ultimately disastrous–campaign. In a 15-second spot, a spokesman says he doesn’t have the time to describe the wonders of the chain’s signature sandwich. Instead, he says, “Okay, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Google Assistant’s algorithm goes straight to the source: the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry, which Burger King’s marketing team had edited.

The response was swift, with multiple Wikipedia editors calling out the company for breaking its community rules, and consumers editing the pages in a negative light, including:

“The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% medium-sized child with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cyanide, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun.”

According to reports, Google disabled the feature just two hours after the campaign began.

This “social media altercation” is one of many examples of the tension between brands and consumers, and a good illustration of the vigilance with which consumers monitor corporate actions, lashing back as needed.

Was Burger King technologically savvy or just naive? What do you think?

United in a knot

Image by The Red Dress via

Via your classmate Joyce:

That breeze you’re feeling is Pepsi’s sigh of relief. In what’s been called the ultimate “hold my beer” move, United Airlines managed to find itself in an even bigger PR nightmare days after Pepsi launched its controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

To give a brief recap of the United Airlines incident:

  • The airline had overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville and were looking for four passengers to volunteer their seats in order to accommodate four of its employees to make a flight.
  • When none of the passengers (who were already seated) wanted to give up their spots, United selected passengers to be removed from the flight.
  • While three of the passengers vacated their spots, David Dao refused to give up his seat. What ensued was airport officers being called onto the plane to physically drag Dao out of his seat. More disturbingly, Dao was injured in the incident resulting in lacerations on his head. And the kicker to this was that this incident was recorded and shared online.
  • Once made available online, the video went viral.
  • But it didn’t stop there. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz responded to the video in an email sent to employees. In the email, Munoz deflected the blame by stating that United employees followed proper procedures and that Dao was belligerent and had defied airport security officers.
  • Naturally, this email was also shared on social media where people voiced their concern on the tone-deafness of the communication.

I’m sure you know that it’s not uncommon for airlines to overbook their flights. It’s one of the many pain points of flying. I don’t envy the Marketing, Brand and PR departments of airlines. It’s a constant battle of handling customer complaints. But I think the David Dao incident is a really compelling case on how brands and organizations need to be mindful that people (customers and employees) are always watching and we’re at a time when everyone has a camera and video recorder readily available. Gone are the days when someone like Dao can be shuffled aside and provided compensation quietly outside the prying eyes of the public. We live in an age where isolated incidents can have huge reputational and financial repercussions. In the case of United, its stock dropped by 6.3% the day following the incident (

Case in point, organizations need to be extremely careful about how their brand is being represented at all times. It reminds me of the 2010 incident where a TTC transit fare collector was caught napping in the booth (

But the point isn’t the necessity for proper employee training and how they represent the organization’s brand. It’s that brands need to be keenly aware and prepared that eyes are on them all the time. All it takes is one incident, one error or even an event taken out of context to collapse all of the brand equity an organization has worked so hard to attain. Going back to United Airlines, even though it was airport officers who were dragging Dao off the plane, the incident happened on a United Airlines flight and the public immediately links what happened to the brand. Not only that, United didn’t get any sympathy from the public when it was revealed that the four seats were needed for employees. Why should United customers need to accommodate the company’s employees?

Overall, it goes to show how a cell phone and a social media platform can have such a huge impact on a brand’s reputation. This definitely isn’t the first or even the last time United will experience a dent in their reputation. What I hope is that the organization learns from this incident and makes the necessary changes on how they address their customers. At the end of the day, they’re in the service industry and customer service should be their top priority.

Miles to Go Before It Improves…

air miles

Via your classmate Victor:

Air Miles has been in the news because it attempted to implement a policy in which loyalty points would expire after a certain period of time. Rather that gaining acceptance and increasing redemption rates, Air Miles angered their membership base. Eventually LoyaltyOne, the company that owns and operates customer loyalty programs, decided to cancel the new policy that would place an expiration date on reward miles but only after there was much resistance from customers and regulators. Not only did LoyaltyOne receive complaints about the new policy, they received feedback about extremely long wait times for customer service and regulation had to be put in place to ban the expiry of points in Ontario.

In an attempt to rebuild their brand equity and establish credibility amongst their user base, Air Miles is attempting to develop new points of differentiation by improving its customer service and expanding its reward offerings to non-elite members. Despite their best efforts, it appears as though consumers’ perception of the Air Miles brand has been severely tarnished. A customer may now perceive this brand to be less trustworthy, manipulative and unreliable. Even in LoyaltyOne’s attempts to rectify their damaged brand image, there was still consumer disapproval. If a potential customer is deciding which loyalty program to register, it will be difficult for Air Miles to establish itself as a better choice compared to the competition.

The brand now has a reputation of not being responsive to customer needs and having inadequate customer service. This signals to consumers that Air Miles is not dedicated to their needs and if a situation arises requiring support, Air Miles may not be available or willing to help them. In the future, to improve the damaged Air Miles brand, LoyaltyOne should reposition itself in the minds of its customers by better understanding the impact of its actions prior to launching new changes to their policies and services. Rather than taking a reactive approach and responding only to negative consumer feedback, LoyaltyOne now needs to be proactive in understanding how it can add value to its offerings within the market while improving its brand’s perception.

Resolves Racism AND Tastes Great!

Image result for kendall jenner pepsi

Unless you’ve been sleeping…in the library…without a smart phone (none of which is remotely likely), you’ve probably heard about the failed Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

Moving from “fake” (modelling in a blond wig) to “meaningful” (joining in a protest), Jenner’s transformation–her own, the crowd’s and, most importantly, law enforcement’s–is enabled by the magic of Pepsi.

Confused? So were the in-house creative team that conceived of this campaign.

Industry executive Benjamin Blank, quoted in an article in Advertising Week, explains:

“I understand what they were trying to do: They had data that probably said 75% of millennials consider themselves activists, or whatever that data piece was, so we are going to embrace the idea of activism,”  [But Pepsi misfired by taking a] “very broad-stroke approach as opposed to standing for something. It’s like standing for love or happiness, that’s not really a stance.”

If Kendall Jenner actually did something that was meaningful and they documented that and supported that, that would probably be something that would make more sense for the brand as opposed to paying her whatever they paid her to appear in a scripted piece of content that was not based in any true meaning.”

Adding insult to injury, Martin Luther King’s daughter noted that the ad was released on the 49th anniversary of her father’s assassination.

Image result for mlk daughter tweet on pepsi


The result? The ad was pulled, Pepsi was mocked, and everyone’s talking about it. What’s your assessment: Win? Fail?