Can brands survive a scandal?

Crisis Brands

Horsemeat is a difficult sell, tax avoidance is hard to stomach and phone tapping to get a scoop is a bridge too far… so what happens when a brand finds itself in a scandal.

In the US TV series Mad Men, 1960s ad man Don Draper is asked what a client should do when a brand of dog food is found to contain horsemeat –  “Change the name,” he says. “The name has been poisoned.”

While we would never wish to contradict the infamous Don Draper we should be mindful that unlike the golden era of the Ad Man businesses face far more competition than ever before and the investment to get a brand known, trusted and liked isn’t small change. Consumers are more savvy and a simple name change wouldn’t disassociate a business from it’s misdemeanour.

Brands which find themselves in crisis and come through the fall out find that what sticks in people’s minds is the way the company responded. Saying sorry, taking responsibility and making visible changes to improve goes a long way. As consumers, we understand mistakes happen and are good at forgiveness, if we’re shown genuine remorse and the brand makes real changes to rectify the error.

Take McDonalds they have suffered the wrath of consumer outrage and media frenzy more than most and have had their ups and downs in the public eye, yet seem to escape relatively unscathed.

Super Size Me came out in 2004 a year later Premium Salads were launched and two years after that the fast food giant implemented a series of environmental initiatives such as, turning its spent cooking oil into biodiesel fuel to power its vans in the UK, swapping over to non-hydrogenated cooking oil, the introduction of sustainably grown coffee, organic milk and toasted deli sandwiches and raising the awareness and profile of the local farmers who supply the restaurants.

Not content with that, the company also went through a full makeover, redesigning restaurants to be more enticing to consumers, replacing black and red with shades of green and yellow.

The revamped menus, the rebranded stores, the company’s more progressive stance on the environment all had a positive influence on consumers and helped them to disassociate themselves with the image of an evil and greedy corporate giant. Of course damage was done to the brand, and naturally there is still a stigma to the McDonalds brand and it’s product, in some consumers eyes, claiming that ethical policies don’t change with a lick of paint. But the McDonalds re-positioning in the market has been considered a success and the sales reflect this.

So what this tells us is that a successful comeback campaign requires more than a revamped logo or a name change. It demands a long term vision that inspires customers, investors, and others to see the company in a new light and needs to accept that the comeback is a marathon not a sprint. A brand which finds itself in trouble can ride the fall out if they pay attention to what the public says and responds with products and services that counteract those accusations.