2010 has seen many known brands, from person brands to product and service brands, fall from grace because of a variety of reasons. The most famous person brand to suffer this fate is that of Tiger Woods. Following reports of as many as 18 extra-marital affairs with a string of beauties, followed by the many weeks during which he hid from public glare; incommunicado, Tiger Woods went on to lose a number of crucial tournaments that would have helped him maintain his shining reputation as a golfer. Major sponsors pulled back from associating their brands with his, badly impacting on brand Tiger Woods. Toyota and BP also experienced protracted negative press as a result of avoidable failures that happened within their operations.

Do negative brand experiences last in the mind of the consumer?

The short answer to this question is, well, not very short. The strength of a brand’s position in the mind of its target market will always determine the rapidity with which failure will be forgiven, if at all. A rare mistake in a long established brand, if responded to with swift transparency, humility and assurance by the brand managers, is more likely to be forgiven than in a case where transparency lacked. In the case of Toyota and BP, apparent initial arrogance (“I want my life back” comment by BP’s then CEO) and reported attempts to hide the technical deficiencies in breaking systems (Toyota) led to more costs and lawsuits against the company, all affecting the bottom-line and brand perceptions. In each case, the general public and consumers felt cheated and taken for granted.

Usual mistakes and other things to consider

While it is helpful to employ assistance by expert communicators in times of bad press, the choice of expert is important. Often, when there is a lot of desperation – like in the case of Tiger Woods – aggressive and overzealous spin doctors get employed and end up messing things up even more than they were in the first place. A good PR Consultant will not only try to blindly defend the brand; he will do this by also taking into consideration the current norms, values and expectations of the audiences that the messages must reach. In a very macho and paternalistic society, Tiger Woods’ actions would probably have been easier forgiven than in a society where the rights of women are highly promoted and protected. In the case of BP, while the CEO’s comments might have been meant to communicate that he also wanted to get the oil spill reversed as soon as possible so that he too could have his life back, he erred by seeming to put his own personal interests first, forgetting to appreciate the reach of the environmental disaster and its effect on many small jobs and businesses.

In conclusion, brands – no matter how successfully established – cannot be managed without taking into account the values and norms of the societies in which they exist. Consumers have become increasingly informed, thanks to the proliferation and easy access to a variety of new media platforms. Online desktop research and exchange of views on brands has become the norm, resulting in increasingly militant consumers who are ready to make demands on the providers of goods and services.   In the end, some brands will fall and stand-up again, thanks to their strengths and empathetic brand management techniques; others will fall and remain down thanks to failure to properly read consumer preferences.