4 Biggest Corporate Branding Disasters

2006 was not a banner year for many companies. In fact, quite a few of them really, really screwed up. Who embarrassed themselves the most? From CNN Money:

“Again we’ve had no shortage of big branding mistakes last year and even early this year,” said Kelly O’Keefe, an independent branding consultant and CEO of O’Keefe Brands.

O’Keefe has published an annual branding “Hall of Shame” for five consecutive years.

The full list isn’t out yet, but O’Keefe has teased us with the first 4. We list and evaluate, inside.

• Wal-Mart:
“Today’s Wal-Mart looks more like a Kmart. It’s lost those values that made it great. Wal-Mart needs to reconnect with itself rather than trying to compete with Target (Charts) or somebody else.”

The article fixates on Walmart firing their ad agency and their sad, sad attempts to be Target, but doesn’t mention the Nazi T-shirts, the random racist guy, the hentai porn, hiring Edelman PR, not paying their employees, the spying on reporters, or “Walmarting Across America.” Odd.

• JetBlue: Whoooooops. According to O’Keefe, CEO David “Mortified” Neeleman didn’t apologize soon enough. “He took over 24 hours to make an apology,” O’Keefe said. “He should’ve acted much faster to say he regretted what happened and that JetBlue would make amends.”

We feel compelled to mention that he did apologize, and we still don’t get very many complaints about JetBlue. Are you people not complaining? Feel free to send them in. We’re all ears.

•Turner Broadcasting System: TBS’s attempt to trick Boston into blowing itself up was not well received in this particular article. Consumerist thinks that Boston’s bomb squad suffered the bigger reputation hit. Yes, it was stupid to put lite-brite boards on bridges. Should the bomb squad be able to tell the difference between toys and bombs? Yes? Dare we say it?

We nominate Dr. Pepper looting Paul Revere’s grave as the dumber Boston-area gorilla marketing faux pas.

• Home Depot: Apparently, women don’t like Hope Depot. “Lowe’s is far more successful in that regard,” said O’Keefe. Maybe it’s that women don’t like standing in line for 190 million years while they wait for staff members to evolve out of a vat of primordial ooze so that they can open a register. Maybe that facet of the brand is not “connecting.”—MEGHANN MARCO

Corporate Branding Oops [CNNMoney]
(Photo: Clean Wal-Mart)


Edit Your Comment

  1. OnceWasCool says:

    Things are a lot different with Home Depot and Lowe’s here in North Georgia. They ONLY way to get someone to help you at Lowe’s is to climb one of the many ladders they have around the place. Home Depot is in sharp contrast to that since you will have at least 6 people if you need help! :)

  2. JPropaganda says:

    O’Keefe sounds like she doesn’t have all her facts straight.

    Wal-Mart DID fire their ad agency and get a new one.

    Neeleman apologized within a DAY of the mistake: that’s not the problem. The problem was it should never have happened.

    TBS didn’t set out to cause bomb threats! THEY WERE LITE BRITES! Give me a break!

  3. camas22 says:

    hubris:2007 ::

  4. ElizabethD says:

    Re: TBS and Dr. Pepper in Boston:

    Didn’t Samsonite score a hit decades ago with “gorilla marketing”?


  5. supafly says:

    Ok, leave Jet Blue alone. So what that it took the CEO a day to apologize. Sometime I think people complain just to complain. Oh look pocket lint . .. boo hoo. A green truck . . . waaaaaaaaah. The people who complain without a legitimate gripe create all kinds of noise drowning out the people that have reason to complain. Grow up.

  6. QuirkyRachel says:

    “We feel compelled to mention that he did apologize, and we still don’t get very many complaints about JetBlue. Are you people not complaining? Feel free to send them in. We’re all ears.”

    Maybe we’re just smart enough to not fly with JetBlue after all of their snafus :)

  7. supafly says:

    PS Look at the source of this list. You think Kelly got something to sell? This is branding specialist putting out an Opps list.

  8. hop says:

    i was a police for 28yrs(not boston), those lite-brites didn’t look anything like a bomb to me……

  9. Anyone else find it odd that two of last year’s marketing blunders happened in 2007?

  10. kerrington.steele says:

    I think this woman just read Consumerist, picked the most boring parts of some otherwise interesting stories, mixed in some uber-obvious WSJ jibberjabber, and vomited it all up onto paper in lieu of writing a column.

  11. Chad Cloman says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s “guerrilla”, not “gorilla”.


  12. dufus says:

    If you want help at a Home Depot, you have to visit the “pumpkin patch”.

    That’s Home Depot slang for the group of employees standing around in a group talking, and hoping you won’t bother them… (Note that they all wear those orange aprons.)

    If you went up to a group and said “Mind if I pick one of you pumpkins from the pumpkin patch for a little help?”, I bet they’d help you pretty quickly. Pumpkin patch isn’t a well known term to the general public, and they might think you’re an insider.

  13. The Unicorn says:

    Maybe referring to all customer service representatives as “pumpkins” is the solution we’ve all been waiting for.

  14. Slusy says:

    I dunno, I’d rather the Boston bomb squad treat the lite-brites as bombs and find out later that they were harmless than shrug them off as toys that then turn out to be bombs, taking out Route 93 in the process. My commute sucks enough as it is, thank you very much. :)

  15. mstevens says:

    In Samsonite’s case, it was most definitely “Gorilla” marketing. Perhaps you weren’t around then.

  16. tentimesodds says:

    People aren’t complaining about JetBlue because JetBlue is totally awesome. They did have a bad weekend, but being able to watch TV at 35,000 feet is about the most awesome thing ever.

  17. Meghann Marco – 3, CNN – 0


  18. rocketslide says:

    They call Federated Department Store / Macy’s a success? No one I know in Chicago shops at Macy’s. We were loyal Marshall Field’s shoppers, and Macy’s means nothing to us. Their sales are down & they seem completely surprised by it. I’d call Federated branding a complete failure.

  19. thisiskspraydad says:

    It was American Tourister not Samsonite (Though Samsonite now owns American tourister).

    You can see one of the Gorilla commercials here:

  20. RandomHookup says:

    Boston also tried promoting the zoo with a bit of ‘gorilla’ marketing a couple of years ago, but that didn’t work out either.

  21. JohnMc says:

    For JetBlue I don’t think it is a brand problem as much as execution. If your reservations system won’t stay up after a major reroute problem you have more than a brand problem.

    As to Home Depot. Don’t want to stand in line? Working on a major remodel? Get registered with them as a ‘contractor’. The commerical lane is always open and manned. And if you are really lucky there might be close to a commerical HD facility that does not cater to the public. Personally my pet peeves are some of the customers — who sit there worrying about what color astroturf to buy and clog up the aisle with the cart.

  22. karmaghost says:

    TBS’s payment of one million to the city of Boston could be viewed as the best million dollar advertising campaign ever. What value!

  23. yzerman says:

    My wife worked at target as one of their best cashiers over 4 years, then came year 5 and they started looking for things to fire her for, and I say this because she got nothing but positive reviews until she turned down a management position. What’s more funny is the manager who pushed for her firing got caught stealing cash and getting arrested. Funny how over 5 years she never called in once unless she was deathly sick unlike all the kids who once it was sunny out decided to skip work.

    Then she went to work at home depot and like a year later they fire all the good employees for stupid reasons to cut staff and the place is no where near what it once was in regards to good staff. Good luck finding a ex-electrician or anyone that knows anything there anymore. It’s far cheaper to hire the cheaper less experienced labor staff.

    I guess I shouldn’t complain but over the past few years this seems to be becoming the norm at places. Ship out the good employees who work there a long time and know their stuff, even care about their customers for cheaper labor who doesn’t.

  24. thisiskspraydad says:

    Good and competent staff threaten management with competence.

  25. Falconfire says:

    how the fucking hell did Sony get left off that list while TBS for putting up god damn lightbrites got on it?

  26. Youthier says:

    @rocketslide: Seriously! I live 90 miles outside of Chicago and I only go into Macy’s when it’s a Clinique/Estee emergency. If my mall had a Nordstrom, I would never step foot in Macy’s. It’s not even close to the same thing as MF. It was a Midwest steadfast in the way of department stores. I can’t believe that’s a success.

  27. NeoteriX says:

    “We feel compelled to mention that he did apologize, and we still don’t get very many complaints about JetBlue. Are you people not complaining? Feel free to send them in. We’re all ears.”

    Maybe as much as the media is trying to vilify Jetblue, we’ve seen how much worse the other airliners are and still have some trust and respect in the company.

  28. cindel says:

    Fucking Jetblue?! Well, at least they didn’t steal $3000…just saying

  29. Americana says:

    “gorilla marketing faux pas.”

    Yes, it’s guerilla.

    “Yes, it was stupid to put lite-brite boards on bridges.”

    Not only stupid, but if successful (you know, not getting my fair city in an uproar) what would it accomplish? Aqua Teen Hunger Force can’t exactly increase its market share – pretty much every nerd knows of the show.

    I just wanted to see the two jackasses hired get beat (especially the one with the retarded hair).

    “how the fucking hell did Sony get left off that list while TBS for putting up god damn lightbrites got on it?”

    I dunno, when you go from super-king of video games to a probable failure you’d expect to be on some lists.

  30. badhatharry says:

    Dufus, I would rather carry my new hot water heater out by myself than be seen in public calling some high school kid “Pumpkin.”

  31. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Not only is Federated’s changing Field’s into Macy’s a disaster, everyone here in Chicago is wondering when Terry Lundgren, the Federated CEO that made this boneheaded decision is going to be dumped!
    My guess is January 2008, after the Q4 sales results are in.

    As for Boston & the Lite-Brites, the idiot Boston bomb squad blew up a traffic counting device a couple of weeks ago.
    April Fools Day is just 10 days away.
    Who knows what the bomb squad will think is a bomb and blow it up?
    Be afraid Boston, be very afraid!

  32. zl9600 says:

    Federated’s stock is within a few pennies of a 52 week high. I wouldn’t be counting on a CEO departure just because your Frango Mints are melting on State Street.

    Their Q4 sales were down but not huge, and yes a lot of it was blamed on the integration issues. I think the integration issues are still a problem (some stores are nasty), but I would not call it a ‘disaster’ at all, although I sympathize with the Marshall Field’s loss. It was a great name and store, but it was a fraction of it’s old grand self, I think many people were just looking through rose-colored glasses when it left.

    As far as looking beyond your Chicago backyard, those of us who had whiskey-tango stores like Foleys got an instant upgrade when Macy’s roared in. It’s not perfect, but most of the stores that got Macy’s name got an upgrade instantly in branding, and eventually will get better product, too.

    Sheesh, I think I just typed too much about a f*cking department store. Scary.

  33. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    1. I was talking about the 2008 Q4 results, those won’t be in for 10 months.

    2. Maybe you got an upgrade, but we didn’t!
    Macy’s is a dump compared to even a Field’s that “was a fraction of it’s old grand self”.

    3. Will somebody explain to me why Macy’s uses that red star as a logo?
    All I think of when I see that is that the Soviet Army has taken it over!