Team Building

PR Lessons Learned: 3 Branding Mistakes Made Last Year



When business set out to introduce new policies, marketing efforts, and products there are bound to be some blunders. Take a look at last year’s biggest branding mistakes, what went wrong, and the lessons businesses can take away from them.





1. Own Your Mistake

The health of a brand image relies heavily on businesses apologizing when they are in the wrong. Ignoring a problem, denying it, or treating it as unimportant can have very negative effects. Take for example, Union Street Guest House who officially approved a policy to charge guests a $500 fee for posting negative comments about the establishment online. After the New York Post published the story, the brand was further hurt by the owner claiming the policy was a joke. The damage compounded further when at least one Yelp review cited an email from the hotel trying to collect the fee.

The lesson here is two-fold. The first takeaway from this story is that when a business makes an obvious mistake, it has to accept it and apologize. Secondly, it is important in that apology to show that you sympathize with those customers that are upset, and outline how the business will remedy the situation. Here, that could have been an open apology on social media with a new outline of the organization’s policies. Instead, the business took their Facebook down and felt the heat of 3,000 negative online reviews.

2. Understand Gravity of Current Events

The Malaysia Airlines brand was extensively damaged following the tragedy of losing two flights (MH17 and MH370). Some in the company suggested changing the name of the airline, but the decision made in 2014 ended up being one of the worst branding mistakes of the year. Would-be travelers in Australia and New Zealand were offered to be in a competition for a free ticket called “My Ultimate Bucket List” that required the passengers to answer what they would like to do and see before they die. This was a catastrophic association to the brand image because 537 people died on the flights that went down that year.

While it is important to develop a recovery plan for the brand image, it is also very important that decision makers carefully think through the associations the marketing message has with the business and its past mistakes. Additionally, businesses should always stray away from making light of natural disasters and tragedies. For example, Urban Outfitters’ tweet about Hurricane Sandy which stated “the storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t!)” failed to understand the gravity of the situation, and costed the brand.

3. Don’t Confuse Your Customer Base

Another of the most notorious branding mistakes of 2014 was Toys “R” Us’ introduction of a new action figure: the drug-dealing main character of Breaking Bad. While the cape of a superhero is a natural accessory to a children’s toy, the gun and drugs this action figure was holding outraged parents and incited petitions among customers that garnered more than 9,000 supporters. In response, the company tried to defend the product, saying it was intended for ages 15 and up. Yet, resistance continued and a Toys “R” Us spokeswoman eventually told the public that the toy line would be on “indefinite sabbatical.”

The lesson learned here is that a business needs to understand their customer base, and examine each product to ensure it targets that audience. The Florida mother that began the petition on even said in a statement that she enjoyed the show but said the action figures were a “dangerous deviation from [the toy chain’s] family...values.” As a category-specific store that targets children, it was a mistake for the store to sell this product, and the customer reaction proves that. With these examples of branding mistakes, businesses should always remember to own up to mistakes, understand the seriousness of current events, and ensure products are aimed at target audiences.

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Erin P. Friar

Erin Friar is a Content Marketing Journalist Intern at Repsly, Inc. and is completing a Journalism degree at Suffolk University. She is a master of grammar and is passionate about creating fresh content to help foster efficiency and overall success in small businesses.

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