2012: The Worst in Brand Marketing for the Year

2012 Wasn’t the Best Year For Branding

As we approach the year-end, I look optimistically forward to Lucky #13.  I’m hopeful that 2013 will be a much better year in branding than 2012 was.   While the economy was in a relative stand still, I think marketers also were.   Do we still believe that great marketing can help drive an economy into recovery or do marketers just sit in fear, choosing the safest options they can find?  All year, social marketers battled with traditional marketers.   It is such a silly debate and I hope it ends some time soon.  The only real separation I see is that some brands are figuring it out, while others looked pretty stupid not even trying.   Some media are figuring it out as well, but others are still struggling on how to make money from their services.  I was going to do “The Best and Worst” but in 2012, it just feels too easy to do the worst.

Facebook IPO damaged the Brand Reputation:  

The first 4 months of the 2012 were filled with stories about how amazing and invincible Facebook was, with estimated valuation going from $20 Billion to $50 Billion all the way up to $100 Billion.  2012 badEveryone was in awe and Zuckerberg was pure Genius.  But once Facebook went public, they learned the hard lesson about privacy.  Pretty soon, it because obvious that Facebook was struggling with how to monetize the billion members they had collected.  The invincible brand was quickly tarnished and the stock price tumbled from $40 down to $15.  For traditional Brand Leaders, this didn’t help the cause of Social Media.

A Year of Gaffes on Social Media

The worst tweet of the year belonged to Kitchen Aid who made an awful tweet during the US Presidential Elections.   First, brands should never express their political views.   And beyond that, the tweet was in extremely bad taste.   Importantly, it does remind us that social media is the wild-west of marketing and has to be monitored closely.

2012 bad

McDonald’s innocently enough created a hashtag on twitter called #McDstories which quickly turned nasty with consumers just giving it to McDonald’s.  Again, quick monitoring and deleting bad stories could have been helpful.

2012 bad2

Pizza Hut posted an online video inviting the participants at the Town Hall Presidential Debate to ask the candidates whether they preferred sausage or pepperoni.  The idea was a little too cute for the mainstream media who were in  the midst of the serious debates and the pretty much roasted Pizza Hut hourly for days.

Please stop with the “Like Us on Facebook”

Alright, enough already.   Getting someone to like you on Facebook doesn’t seem very hard.  Almost as hard as getting someone to endorse you on Linked In.  I’d like that stopped as well.  This year, I was out on a nice country drive with my wife and drove past a Rock Quarry that had a sign “Like Us on Facebook”.   Given the limited advertising budget of a Rock Quarry, they have one chance to communicate with me and that’s what they chose.  How about “Rocks, $10 a pound”.   Let’s hope the “Like Us on Facebook” dies soon.

Hotels Charging for Internet

Most of us likely pay between $25 and $60 per month for your internet services, depending on your location or bandwidth choices.   We can get free WiFi in every Starbucks, McDonald’s and  any coffee shop.  Yet, 2012 was the growing trend of Hotels starting to rip off consumers for Internet usage.  Most recently, on a trip to NYC, they wanted to charge me $17 per day, per device.  i figured, we’d just use the lobby.  That would cost $7 per hour.   This is pure gouging of the consumer stuck away from home.  I’m hoping one of the big chains sees a slight window where they can do what Starbucks did for WiFi.   I encourage everyone who finds this hotel policy disgusting to complain to their hotel or go on their Twitter and register a complaint.    In fact, I’m starting to hear of cities contemplating making their entire city “Free WiFi” as a competitive advantage.   What everyone is learning is the internet has to be free and it’s expected to be free.  This is a scam that I hope stops in 2013.

Blackberry’s Arrogance in Management

About 24 months ago, Blackberry was a relatively hot brand.  2012 badIt was the choice of the business world.  People talked so much about being addicted to their blackberry that the term “crackberry” was a running gag.  It seems every teenager was BBM’ing  And they had just announced the launch of the Playbook, which loyal Blackberry users were looking forward to seeing.   The problem for Blackberry was poor product quality–crappy browser, phone, camera, keyboards and battery.  Anyone who tried an iPhone or Android quickly switched and Blackberry’s market share dwindled and the stock price crumbled from $120 down to $10.   It was the arrogance of management behind Jim Balsillie and Mike Laziridis, who could no longer get along and who were both tossed from the company in 2012.

Apple Had a Mixed Year

Apple is the latest Beloved Brand that can do no wrong…that started to show some cracks over the past six months.   It’s a classic case of making sure you measure the Brand Wealth and Health.   2012 badWhile the sales are still exceptionally strong and the stock price is extremely high, there were a few flaws this year that could be signs that people in the post-Jobs era are waiting for.   The iPad3 wasn’t much of a difference for the average consumer to get excited behind.   The iPhone5 while very strong didn’t really meet sales forecasts.   And then there was the maps fiasco, which had many loyalists claiming “That would not have happened under Steve Jobs”.   The good news for those loyalists is Tim Cook fired a bunch of the people responsible for the Maps fiasco, demonstrating that he’s not as tolerant for errors as they were proclaiming.  The launch of iPad Mini was a nice tease for many consumers (myself included) but a few of the loyalists are also a bit skeptical, especially as it runs counter to what Jobs wanted.   The Apple stock price started the year at $400, jumped quickly to $600+ in the spring and fell back down to $515 where it sits currently.   All in all, a mixed year for Apple.  Twelve months ago, we optimistically said “what’s next for Apple” which twelve months later, we’re still saying “what’s next for Apple” but with a bit more frustration than optimism.  I’m hopeful that it’s more than just iPhone 6, iPad 4, iPod Mini 2 or iPod 11.03.  I thought Apple thought incrementalism sucked.

Obama vs Romney was a bit Blah

Forget the politics, candidates, policies for a minute.   The marketing of the two candidates took a step back.  No creativity came from social media.   It was back to the future 1980s style campaigning with endless TV ads slamming each other.  2012 badThere was no “Obama” girl, no great speeches, tag lines and the debates lacked any “you’re no Jack Kennedy” lines.  As a marketer, sometimes we look for these campaigns to use all that money to come up with something truly breakthrough that the rest of us marketers can learn from.  It also seems that the Tea Party and Occupy movements have both lost their steam.   Maybe in 2016, we’ll have Clinton vs Bush (Hillary vs Jeb) that will make it seem really back to the future.

The National Hockey League

For the second time in five years, the NHL has a lock out of the players.  Debate all you want as to whether you side with the Billionaires of the Millionaires, this is really no way to grow a brand that needs growing.   In Canada, Hockey will always be #1.  But in the coveted US market, Hockey remains on the outside looking in.   Hockey trails the NFL, MLB, NBA, NASCAR, College Football, College Basketball and even the UFC.    If you don’t have snow, you haven’t really missed that the NHL is even on a work stoppage.  Everyone always says “it’s the fans who are getting hurt”.  No, it’s not.  It’s the brand.  When you are trying to grow a brand, it takes investment and commitment to building a relationship with your customers.  Putting excessive detail on the cost line is not the way to grow.  On top of that, the lockout comes down to one very simple premise:  we want to put rules in place that will get the owners to stop paying the players so much money.   Can’t they just do that, without the rules.

Here’s to a Great Year in 2013!


To find ways to make your brand more loved, read the following presentation:


grAbout Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/   or visit my Slideshare site at http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamRobertson/presentations where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader.  Feel free to add me on Linked In at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1  or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1

You can always reach me by email at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

I run Brand Leader Training programs on this very subject as well as a variety of others that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  Click on any of the topics below that might interest you:


Five Brand Resolutions For 2012

As we start 2012, here are some Brand Resolutions.

  1. Take a Walk in Your Consumers Shoes.  See the brand as they do.
  2. At every turn, ask yourself “DO I LOVE IT?”   Reject all work that is “just ok”.
  3. Delegate But Do Not Abdicate Ownership of your Brand.
  4. Create a Culture around your Brand—Brand should be everyone’s job, not just marketing.
  5. Once you create a Beloved Brand, you should run your branded business as a source of Power that helps drive Profit and Value.

#1:  Take a Walk in Your Consumers Shoes.  See the brand as they do.  It’s not just about doing research and finding consumer insights.  It’s about experiencing the brand as your consumer does.  Bringing the consumer into everything you do tightening the connection.   In 2012, be the spokesperson who represents the consumer to your team and watch the work get better.

At each stage of a the Brand Love Curve, you should challenge yourself with Amazing programs by asking “do I love this”  Reject all work that is “just ok” and push everyone to make the work better.  

#2:  At every turn, ask yourself “DO I LOVE IT?”    Reject all work that is “just ok”.  Moving your brand from indifferent to Like It is relatively easy:  good product, smart investment and doing the basics right.  But moving from “Like It” to “Love It” can be a herculean task.  If you want your consumer to love your brand, you have to love the work you do.  Look at the love Apple projects to its consumers through the magic of design, branding and marketing.  Never let something out that’s “just ok”.  If you’re indifferent, then you’re brand will be as well.   Challenge yourself in 2012 to lead yourself with passion equal to logic and find a way to love the work you do.

#3:  Delegate But Do Not Abdicate Ownership of your Brand.   In 2012, stop saying a)  “Oh well, the agency is the expert” b) “I never liked the brief” or c) “I never fully agreed with the Decision”.  These feel like a cop out, and it makes you look like a wimp.   Good brand leaders engage in the brand and lead it.   Sometimes it’s delegating to the team to keep them motivatated, but just as many, you have to challenge the direction to ensure the thinking is sound.   In 2012, stop acting like a Manager and start acting like a Brand Owner!

#4:  Create a Culture around your Brand—Brand should be everyone’s job, not just marketing.  There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people impacted by the vision, mission and values you set out for the brand.   While most people will think the Brand Manager leads the brand, it’s the collective wisdom of all those who touch it.   From Sales People negotiating on the brands behalf to HR people who pick the right people to various Agencies, right down to the Editor who works just one day on your brand.  Motivate them, embrace them, challenge them, lead them, follow them and reward them.   Great people make great work and great work leads to great brands.   In 2012, challenge yourself to realize that you need more than just you living the brand, you need everyone living and breathing it.

#5:  Once you create a Beloved Brand, you should run your branded business as a source of Power that helps drive Profit and Value.  You should be looking at your business through the lens of your brand.   Yes, the brand promise sets up how the external community views your brand whether that’s consumers, customers or key influencers.  But equally so, brand becomes a beacon to help guide behaviour, decisions, action, structure and the formation of a culture.  You should drive your growth and profitability through your brand, with a focus on driving share, enhancing price while managing costs and finding new markets.   Most marketers will tell you that branding is about positioning—it’s about being “unique”.  I think positioning is a means to driving growth and making money—it’s about being “powerful”.   The challenge for 2012 is to create a connection with your consumer that can be leveraged as a source of power for you to drive value and profit for your brand.

By driving a deeper emotional connection with your consumers, you can turn that connection into power, which can than be used to drive even further power and value for the brand.  

I really hope you try one of these out in 2012.   And I hope you see the difference.  

Happy New Year!