Usually I wait until the end of the year to recap brand disasters but 2015 has been particularly rich with scandal so I'm posting early:

1. Amazon

Amazon's brand had already been damaged by its policy of forcing warehouse employees to work unpaid overtime.

When The New York Times published a blistering expose of Amazon's shark-eat-shark corporate culture, it made working at the company seem like a chapter out of 1984.

Ironically, the story would probably have been more balanced if Amazon's PR group had cooperated with the reporters instead of giving them the stiff-arm.

Lesson learned: If you don't work with the media, the media will work against you.

2. Bill Cosby

For decades, Bill Cosby was a role model for millions as an actor, producer, spokesperson, entrepreneur, comedian, and pundit.

His personal brand was among the most valuable in Hollywood, landing him in 2011 a spot in the Advertising Hall of Fame.

However, the Cosby empire tumbled like a house of cards when dozens of women came forward accusing him of drugging and molesting them.

Lesson learned: Just because you think you got away with it doesn't mean it won't come back to bite you.

3. Comcast

Consumers hate cable companies, what with their "be at home all day" service calls, purposefully confusing bundles, and customer service best described as dismal.

Under the circumstances, you'd think providers would at least be polite to their long-suffering customers. You'd think wrong, though.

Comcast neatly encapsulated the industry's attitude toward consumers when it changed a customer's name when he cancelled service from "Ricardo" to "A**hole."

Lesson learned: Customer service is your brand, so don't create a culture that despises customers.

4. The Duggars

While families that breed like rabbits make for good reality television, things became a bit too real when it came out that Josh Duggar had allegedly molested his sisters.

Things went from bad to worse when the Ashley Madison hack revealed that Josh Duggar was a "frequent flyer" and had an alleged affair with porn star Danica Dillon.

As a result, the TLC network cancelled 19 Kids and Counting along with any hopes of making money based upon their squeaky clean image.

Lesson learned: It's best to remove the skeletons in the closet before you build your brand.

5. FIFA

With so much money tied up in professional sports, it's inevitable that some of it will change hands under the table.

However, it's hard to keep it under the table when it's out in the open, as at soccer's FIFA, where 14 officials were indicted for wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.

You know things have gotten really bad when the legal problems of a sport become more interesting than the sport itself.

Lesson learned: Try not to use the Sopranos as an organizational role model.

6. McDonald's

Poor Mickey D's. First, it sells its stake in Chipotle only to see that brand eclipse its own growth, and then it becomes the poster child for underpaid workers.

Rather than serving better food and making its franchisers pay a living wage, McDonald's decided that the real problem was that the brand needed burnishing.

The result: an aborted "Lovin' Beats Hatin'" campaign and a yuppie reboot of the already creepy Hamburglar.

Lesson learned: You can't fix a product problem by updating the brand.

7. Nestle

Few brands say "chocolatey goodness" better than Nestle, even though the company now makes a wide range of products, including Fancy Feast cat food.

Unfortunately, some of the fish used to create Fancy Feast apparently came from slave ships where kidnapped workers were chained and beaten.

The jarring contrast between slave laborers and pampered pets isn't exactly what one expects from a brand whose tag line is "Good Food, Good Life."

Lesson learned: In today's information-rich world, your brand is only as strong as the weakest link in your supply chain.

8. Turing Pharmaceuticals

There are few issues in the U.S. that get people so heated up as the high cost of health care and exactly what to do about.

The public outrage was thus predictable when Turing's feckless CEO, Martin Shkreli, raised the price of a $1-to-manufacture life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 a pill.

Hilariously, Shkreli thought he could manager-splain his reasoning before public opinion forced him (and the price) back down.

Lesson learned: Rule No. 1 of branding is to avoid pricing strategies that kill little old ladies.

9. VW

It seemed too good to be true: a car that ran on cheap diesel fuel but didn't pollute the environment.

However, VW's "clean diesel" was the result of on-board software that could tell when a car was being tested... and adjust the polluting downward accordingly.

The result has been a massive recall, lawsuits, and calls for an FTC investigation and permanent damage to a brand once known for its reliability.

Lesson learned: Don't put the future of your brand into the hands of a group of grade-B computer programmers.

10. Yum!

The brand concept is as elegant and simple as they come: serve people fast food (like KFC and Pizza Hut) that makes people say "Yum!"

However, it's a bit difficult to maintain the overall yumminess of your brand image when you're serving customers tainted meat.

While the supply problem was limited to China, the entire brand and all its sub-brands suffered worldwide.

Lesson learned: Rule No. 2 of branding is to avoid making your customers puke.

Published on: Sep 26, 2015
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