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Bad vibes

Bad vibes

Why do consumers seemingly love to loathe some brands? And what can businesses do to turn around an evil image? Rania Habib of Communicate magazine tries to find out.

December 1, 2010 4:48 by

A 2003 film documentary about corporations – named, obviously, The Corporation – explored big business’ legal status as a class of person (in the United States, corporations are entitled to most of the same legal rights as humans) and their behavior.

It came to the conclusion that some corporations behave like psychopaths. They are self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful, breach social and legal standards to get their way, and do not suffer guilt. The Corporation’s case studies of companies acting irresponsibly include research into the use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) by the Monsanto Company to induce higher milk production from cattle, and the privatization of Bolivia’s municipal water supply by the Bechtel Corporation.

If corporations are psychopaths who create brands, are brands psychopaths? Is this why some consumers continuously protest against some brands? While it may be outside our jurisdiction to label brands as psychopaths, there are undoubtedly some that, in the eyes of consumers, act irresponsibly.

As a consequence, these brands come under fire from consumers, who are becoming more informed and empowered. We wanted to ask regional experts for their advice to the owners of controversial brands.

OLD-FASHIONED. Alexander McNabb, group account director at Spot On PR agency and friend of Kipp, says some brands still act in old-fashioned ways at a time when dialogue and engagement between brands and consumers is paramount. “One of the missteps [oil company] BP took, for example, is paying $50 million to say sorry and show images of clean beaches,” says McNabb, referring to BP CEO Tony Hayward’s appearances on television and in print ads to issue a public apology for the oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico. “Buying media is an old-fashioned way to react. The American public was outraged, and BP was criticized for spending money on that, rather than doing something about the spill. It’s a very different attitude from what today’s consumer expects. Some big brands behave in old-fashioned ways, communicating in a one-way direction, continuing without listening. You can only do that for so long now; the tide of opinion moves too fast.”

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