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  John Bell Good Brands Gone Bad
by John Bell
April 29, 2011

Call it a hiccup or a long-term slump; every brand faces a crisis. The enemy can be a direct competitor (Myspace trumped by Facebook), a sudden shift in consumer habits (The Beatles impact on Brylcreem), a product recall (Toyota and gas pedal), an executive’s misbehavior (Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco jailed) or the mishandling of a disaster (BP in the Gulf). Whether the crisis is self-created or a swipe from the blind side, recovery can be elusive.


I’ve always admired J&J for their handling of the Tylenol tampering recall in the 80’s. The J&J folks set the crisis management standard for all others to follow—to be prepared for that inevitable day when disaster WILL strike. I suspect today’s J&J management learned from their predecessors when saddled with the prevalence of product recalls ranging from pills to hip implants. Prudent leaders prepare for calamity. Despite pervasive recall awareness, we have CEOs, many who run companies with substantial capacity to maim the domain of life, with their heads in the sand.

Not long ago, the entire world watched BP and inept CEO Tony Hayward make blunder after blunder while their crude killed. All the talk about BP caring for the environment was for naught because the brand’s actions violated the brand’s message. Other than the long-overdue removal of Hayward, (who publicly said he wanted his life back), the company has failed to restore its image. Helping the world overcome environmental catastrophes such as the Japan quake might make a damn good start.

Unlike BP, who mismanaged an accident, Halliburton and Monsanto self-inflicted the ethical decline of their brand image over many years. The majority of Halliburton’s revenue is from the sale of products and services to the oil and gas industry. However, Halliburton is viewed as war-mongering enterprise that made obscene profits from the Iraq War and from questionable government contracts. Eleven years after anointing Dick Cheney with a severance package of $34 million, the Halliburton brand remains in the mud. I see little effort to rectify. The problem is embedded in Halliburton’s culture.

Monsanto produces genetically-engineered seed; for several years the company has come under persistent criticism from farmers, government and environmentalists for its business practices. You wouldn’t know it from the first page of their website. Monsanto offers, “Better Seed for a Brighter Future. If there is one word to explain what Monsanto is about it would have to be farmers. We create the seeds, the traits, and crop protection chemicals that help farmers produce more food using fewer resources.” Hmm.

I’ll wrap up with an example of a brand and a category suffering the same fate as Brylcreem. Forty years ago, Brylcreem was imbedded in a hairdressing market that moved from ‘grease’ to ‘dry’ in a very short period of time. Fast-food restaurant, KFC sells fried chicken. Fried foods contribute to obesity. Four years ago the name changed from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC for legal reasons, seemingly to do with the use of the word ‘chicken’. Doesn’t matter; everyone knows what the acronym stands for. Lucky for KFC, some people don’t care about obesity. The category example is Big Tobacco where the market rather than the marketer carved out the universal positioning—‘smoking causes cancer’.

   John Bell is a strategy and branding consultant. The former CEO of Jacobs Suchard, which was acquired by Kraft, he blogs at In the CEO Afterlife. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnRichardBell.

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Good Brands Gone Bad
 Good insight and recollections of Brands Gone Wild. I've often thought of Halliburton as the evil kingdom with Cheney's infusion of evil towards mankind. And of course BP with their fiasco last year. Amazing.I had completely forgotten about Brylcreem though and I'm glad you brought it to the forefront here. I especially enjoyed this because it pulled no punches. Thanks for the insights. 
Joe Ray, President/Creative Director, Estudio Ray - April 29, 2011
 It takes a strong ethical foundation to stay humble and avoid suffering from delusions of grandeur. 
Achim Muellers, Consultant and lateral thinker - April 30, 2011
 I think new brands of upcoming mega companies which today are still start up are preparing both new meaning of brand as well as new qualities which will determine what build a new brand.There is unprecedented obligation and opportunity to build brand at the conception of the company though action and value system of its founder, instead of cooked up story developed only by mechanics of branding and advertising. As a founder of the new venture with the name AngelMobile and global ambitions to deliver unbiased and objective video news globally from MOBILE media channels which belong to artists, independent producers I strive to carry mission of the company across technology , business model , every meeting and future action. OUr launch will collaborate and support Olympics in London as a way embrace the ultimate brand the human dignity and integrity , noble competition , as expressed by spiriit of Olympics. Eva Blaisdell Founder AngelMobile 
Eva Blaisdell, Founder, CEO, AngelMobile - April 30, 2011
 Nice article but only one success story... Tylenol... Also do not agree that cigarettes fit into this set of examples. Tons of tax payer money went into a full blown assault on that category for 30 plus years before the tides changed..... billions were spent on convincing the public... along with an assault from the insurance agencies as well. No category could stand up against that regardless of the prevailing position today. And no crisis management could offset that kind of prolonged and constant attack. 
Wes Burgiss, Owner, CEO, Eyemagination - April 30, 2011
 Brylcreem was always more popular as 'grease' than 'dry'. Around 50 years ago, Beecham's, who were then the owners of the Brylcreem brand, commissioned research in west Africa to find out why their product was selling so well there. The findings were that Brylcreem was particularly popular as a cooking fat. This leads us naturally to KFC, obesity,chicken and cancer. It seems to me that, 50 years ago, the world was a far happier, more innocent place.Tom Blackett 
Tom Blackett, -, - - April 30, 2011
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