This year had its share of brand blunders but this post contains eight that, in my view, were not only disastrous but also could have been easily avoided. Notice that many of them involve social media, which is rapidly becoming a branding mine field.

1. Walmart

As the country's largest retailer, Walmart naturally wants to provide its customers with a wide range of products. That range became a bit too wide, though, when the company's Halloween promotional Web pages included the category "Fat Girl Costumes." By the time the company apologized and changed the page, the brand damage was already done.

Lesson Learned: Don't offend a major segment of your customer base.

2. Red Cross

With a history going back over 130 years, the Red Cross has one of the most highly recognized brands in the entire world. In October of 2014, though, reports surfaced that after major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross paid more attention to getting good PR than doing good works.

Lesson Learned: Don't substitute branding for getting the product right.

3. Target

Many boys enjoy action figures, especially of fictional characters that they see as role models. However, while hero-worshipping Spider-Man or Catwoman is probably harmless, it's probably not a great idea--brand-wise--to include in the "Toys" section action figures of a drug lord and crack dealer from the very adult television show Breaking Bad.

Lesson Learned: Match your products to your customer base.

4. US Airways

When US Airways responded to complaining tweets with a "We welcome your feedback..." auto-tweet, it didn't help the company's brand image when the response included a pornographic photo. The offending tweet ended up being retweeted hundreds of times before the company even noticed it had gone out.

Lesson Learned: Don't let an intern run your social media campaign.

5. Reynolds American

For decades, the tobacco industry has claimed that smoking is a personal choice. That brand message wasn't reaffirmed, though, when tobacco giant Reynolds banned pipes, cigars, and cigarettes at their corporate headquarters. Fortunately, for the already addicted, the company still permits employees to use chewing tobacco. (Ewww.)

Lesson Learned: When branding, it's OK to breathe your own smoke.

6. Market Basket

When the board of directors at grocery chain Market Basket replaced beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas with a pair of professional downsizers, the last thing they expected was a wildcat strike followed by a customer boycott. After losing millions of dollars, the board capitulated and sold control of the company back to the ousted CEO.

Lesson Learned: Ultimately, your employees define your brand.

7. American Apparel

While the company's CEO, Dov Charney, had been famous over the years for both his risqué ads and his risky behavior, it probably wasn't the best idea (from a personal branding perspective) for Charney to launch an campaign featuring NSFW photos at the same time that the board of directors was considering whether or not to fire him. (They did.)

Lesson Learned: Don't do branding when scandal is brewing.

8. Malaysian Air

After the regional airline lost two planes in a single month, you'd think they'd consider ways to repair the brand damage. Instead, the airline launched a "bucket list" ad campaign, asking people to tweet places they'd like to see before they die. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see the inside of the airport terminal before I die.

Lesson learned: When your brand needs triage, don't shoot it in the foot.

Published on: Dec 4, 2014
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