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The 5 Brand Disasters Your SME Can Learn From in 2019

Monday 10 December 2018

33 minute read

By Sarah Burns

In keeping with the general theme of end-of-year reviews and content marketing, we've compiled five of the biggest brand disasters of 2018.

Not only that, but we've also provided insight into how your organisation can use the brand's fail to build success.

What are you waiting for? Grab a cuppa and let the memories of these well-known fails wash over you with a chuckle...!

1. US Air Force

Did you hear Yanny or Laurel earlier this year? The US Air Force jumped on the bandwagon of this popular viral sound clip with this tasteless tweet: 

It was quickly deleted, which is why we're sharing a screenshot from another Twitter user, but it doesn't detract from the importance of being careful of what you put out on social channels and who you trust to manage them.

Key takeaway: Stick to your own brand voice and content distribution strategy than jumping on trends without consideration. If you hire a social media manager, make sure they're more like Eddie the Intern

2. H&M

At the start of 2018, the clothing retailer was under fire from many after product photography on its website revealed a black child wearing a sweatshirt reading 'Coolest monkey in the jungle'.

Inevitably the photo caused outrage amongst the general public, with accusations of racism being put to the company from the general public, celebrities and brand partners. Two of the latter, rappers G-Eazy and The Weeknd, cut ties with the brand amid the controversy.

H&M apologised over the choice, issuing a statement to the media and publishing an apology on their homepage, as well as hiring a Diversity Manager. In a statement to The Washington Post, the retailer said: 

"We understand that many people are upset about the image. We, who work at H&M, can only agree.

"We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally.

"It is obvious that our routines have not been followed properly. This is without any doubt. We will thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again."

Key takeaway: Their huge error only highlights the importance of understanding your buyer personas and brand message. Stick to your target demographic and your on-brand voice and avoid getting swept up in controversy. Saying something that you're unsure of? Is it different to your usual messages/style? Don't risk your humour/point getting lost in translation. 

3. New York Times

Learn from Justin Bank, the NY Times editor who mistakenly published a piece, "President Trump’s Exaggerated and Misleading Claims on Trade", in March 2018, with text changes thanks to a satirical web browser add-on.

The browser add-on, Millennial-Snake Person Chrome extension, meant that certain phrases were changed to gibberish, i.e. "Great Recession" became "Time of Shedding and Cold Rocks".

Key takeaway: Take technological advances at your own pace. In your eagerness to implement new platforms and processes you can overlook the glaring reasons why you shouldn't be rushing such a decision, or putting so much of the budget towards it.

4. Leeds United

In January 2018, Leeds United proudly unveiled a new crest to celebrate its centenary year just as we were all stuffing our faces with leftover chocolate. Labelled 'the worst rebrand in history' by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week's impassioned piece on the matter, the unveiling did not go the way the club had anticipated.

Indeed, within a week Leeds United promised a rethink after listening to fans' pleas, including a petition in excess of 50,000 signatures.

In the original unveiling, the club's website stated:

"After a rigorous process that spanned six months, we consulted more than 10,000 people connected to Leeds United, through digital surveys, one-on-one and group interviews and meetings with legends, current players, club staff, the owner, partners and representatives from the Leeds and Yorkshire communities.

"The abbreviation rather than spelling out Leeds United in full contributes to the crest being unrecognisable. We wanted to say who we are with pride: We are Leeds United.

"We are now delighted and proud to reveal a new crest that represents the passion and the unique identity that runs deep through the Club."

Key takeaway: Rebrands are incredibly powerful, for the good and bad. Think carefully about your organisation, the brand your customers know so well and speak to a reputable creative agency, such as ours, about whether you really need to undertake a rebrand or, instead, a brand positioning project.

5. KFC

The fast-food chicken place ran out of chicken. Yes, really! Not that I need to tell you, we all remember the heart-breaking phase earlier in 2018. This one made the list because it was a disaster... but, wow, did they turn it around with an excellent digital and print campaign. A campaign that was so simple, yet so effective.

It all stemmed from everyone's favourite Colonel's decision to switch delivery provider for its chicken products. When they moved to DHL, the delivery service blamed "operational issues" for the reason that more than half of KFC's outlets were temporarily shut and once reopened staff were forced to operate with limited menus. Undoubtedly, this was a disaster... and it rolled on for a significant amount of time.

Except its apology was a stroke of genius and all was quickly forgiven in Britain - we love a tryer after all!

Key takeaway: Even the biggest disasters don't need to be destructive or even game-changers. Typo in your big social media advertising campaign? Broken link in your email newsletter? Failed to see success from attending that big exhibition? Press the reset button. Admit your fault. Apologise. Move on. 

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