Brand Winners and Losers of 2012
The year is drawing to an end, so it's time for my annual branding post. This year, I'm presenting the worst and best together, because that makes it easier to draw lessons from both. Needless to say, these rankings consist of my own opinion; I'm certain that other writers would come up with a very different list.
Rebranding involves changing the logo, tagline, or packaging of a product that no longer seems to represent the qualities a firm would like customers to envision when they think of the brand. Most of the time, rebranding efforts are fairly "meh" but here are two cases where rebranding has made arguably a difference.
Best: Cheer (Procter & Gamble)
P&G often seems to have more brands than it knows what to do with. As such, its rebranding efforts tend to be, frankly, a bit dull. Not so with P&G's rebranding of the venerable Cheer line of laundry detergent.
Most companies, when rebranding a product that was wildly popular in the Mad Men era would go for some kind of retro-theme. P&G went in exactly the opposite direction, turning Cheer into something that actually seems, well, cheerful.
Worst: Windows 8
In the autumn of 2012, Microsoft launched a complicated operating system product strategy that attempted to maintain both backward compatibility to previous products (Window 8 and a new future in a new product category (Windows RT).
You'd think that since Microsoft is trying, with Windows 8, to hold onto its installed base, they wouldn't tinker with the branding. Instead, the company launched a monochrome logo that has the "look and feel" of a freshman design project.
NEW BRAND NAME
Best: Pussy Riot
Imagine you're a feminist punk-rock band in Russia. Imagine you want everybody in the world to know the name of your band. Could anybody possibly come up with a brand strategy that would be more likely to achieve that goal?
With a brand name like that, all that's needed is a marketing tactic to propel the brand to the forefront, which the band accomplished by managing to royally annoy the world's most powerful "elected" dictator, Vladimir Putin.
Worst: Pink Slime
Any company or industry who thinks that "Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB)" or "Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT)" make great brand names are just asking for a popular alternative brand name to emerge.
While the meat products industry tried desperately to fend off the fear, the ammonia-treated concept of "pink slime" encapsulated every consumer's worst nightmare about food that's not fit for human consumption.
While brand is primarily a result of the quality of a company's products, brand advertising (i.e. ads about brands rather than products) can alter people's perception of a company and its products. At its best, brand advertising turns brand weaknesses into strengths. At its worst, it simply reinforces negative perceptions.
Best: Chrysler ("Imported from Detroit")
It's been decades since Chrysler was "cool," if indeed it ever was. As far as brand image goes, the company is probably more famous for almost going bankrupt than for any of the products that it's made.
Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" series of ads are therefore all the more impressive, because they not only improve Chrysler's image, but even the battered city where its corporate headquarters are located.
Incredibly creative stuff from Portland, Oregon-based Wieden+Kennedy.
Worst: Godaddy's (Body Paint)
Godaddy's risqué superbowl ads were charmingly trite when they originally appeared a decades or so ago. However, this is one case where repetition has weakened the message (whatever that was) beyond the point of self-parody.
Such ads no doubt appeal to the kind male techie who's yet to be kissed by anybody other than his mother, there are plenty female webmasters (webmistresses?) who are likely to find these ads tedious and annoying.
OVERALL BRAND MANAGEMENT
Brand management is all about taking a good brand and making it better. When it's done right, it reinforces the positive feeling that people already have about the brand. When it's done wrong, it causes people to question those feelings. These two huge firms respectively burnished and tarnished their brand in 2012.
Apple is perennially among the most respected brands but with the death of seminal CEO Steve Jobs last year, it was unclear whether consumers would feel the same about the brand, or whether the company would be able to sustains its fabled "cool."
While the company experienced a hiccup with its mapping application, it released a string of products that continues to put relentless pressure on its competitors and dominate key growth categories of consumer electronics.
While Facebook had become, to a certain extent, the "face" of the Internet, it (and CEO Mark Zuckerberg) often seems to be doing everything possible to alienate both users and investors.
What's worse, Facebook continues to generate massive complaints about changes in privacy controls and its user interface. One is left with the impression that, despite its successes (or perhaps because of them), Facebook is stumbling.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.