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  • Posted by: Graham Hales on Thursday, October 18 2012 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

    In these difficult times, armed with their digital voice, we can quickly see the changes in public sentiment. Getting on the wrong side of the mood of the moment can prove expensive.

    Take something we all feel emotionally about: taxes.

    In the UK recent studies showed that public sentiment quickly turned against celebrities who have taken advise to minimize their tax bills. Such schemes are often totally legal, but still feel wrong to the public. After all, the general public has no such access to the expert pin-striped financial advice and see no option for themselves other than to pay their fair way and therefore contribute proportionally to public services.

    The comedian Jimmy Carr was a recent notable case. He had not violated tax laws, but he allegedly used a tax avoidance scheme that was deemed inappropriate in the court of public opinion. He spotted that misjudging public sentiment could be costly to the value of his celebrity and more expensive mistake than paying his perceived tax obligations outright. Carr quickly apologized and recompensed the public coffers.

    But what of corporations that use sharp tax practices to avoid paying taxes in the countries where they derive income? Doesn't this have the potential to be perceived as even worse in the public eye?

    Brands benefit from their popularity across the globe. They can also be harmed when consumer sentiment turns.

    As reported in brandchannel, US companies doing business in the UK, including Starbucks, Facebook, Google and Amazon, are now finding themselves in the hot seat for paying staggeringly low tax rates in the UK. Accordingly, the risk of public wrath for the customers in the UK who help create wealth for these brands could be staggeringly high.

    The corporate world has had public image and trust issues for many years now. If much beloved celebrity entertainers such as Jimmy Carr can be compelled to be contrite and publicly apologize, what are the dangers to brand value it has taken companies years to build?

    Risk managers and tax advisers would do well to engage in listening to public sentiment and consider its potential damage to brand value. The lesson from the Shareholder Spring, the Occupy Movement and the rise of consumer power in the post-digital age is that there is little acceptance of separate rules for companies and individuals when it comes to rights and responsibilities. Being a good citizen matters for brands and consumers alike.

    Starbucks, Facebook, Google and Amazon are all top 100 brands on our Best Global Brands 2012 report because, as Interbrand's CEO Jez Frampton notes, they have demonstrating an understanding of "the role they play in peoples' lives and respond accordingly — building on successes and making up for mistakes. They are constantly nurturing their brands to keep pace in a rapidly changing world; they know that every market is different, every interaction counts, and every individual matters. Quite an achievement in such turbulent times." But in this instance, on this issue, they appear to be teetering on the brink of a PR disaster that without an appropriate response will evidently unfold in the not so distant future.

    Brands need to remember they have the power to change the world. And are expected to be good citizens within it. As Jimmy Carr found, misjudging public sentiment is no laughing matter. Playing fair and remembering how savvy consumers are in a world with constant global information are keys to building better brands now. As Tom Zara and Peter Cendella note in Citizens All: The New Rules of Corporate Citizenship, "It’s about the credibility of a company’s culture of citizenship."


    Graham Hales is CEO of Interbrand London.

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  • Posted by: Fred Burt on Monday, July 18 2011 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

    In the demise of the News of the World, there’s one villain that has been conveniently overlooked: the consumer.

    A number of News of the World executives appear to have crossed the line, but were they not doing it while trying to feed the U.K. public’s insatiable demand for sensationalism? Would they have done this if the revelation of the otherwise private was not a massive seller? If something is rotten in the state of Murdoch, are we not also to blame?

    In this world of transparency, we hold that the corporate behavior that sits behind the brands we know and trust is an increasingly important factor in brand management. So is the willingness of the public to turn on its prime source of weekend tabloid tittle-tattle perhaps the key symptom of a brand built on weak foundations? A matter of weeks ago, the national sentiment was one of outrage that public figures were able to claim super-injunctions to protect their privacy. Now, when a handful of journalists cross the line, we look to throw the whole organization onto the altar of opprobrium.

    What seems to emerge from this is a timely reminder that brands – especially big, influential brands – need to hold up to a standard that is higher than the low bar of mass market appeal. Not because this drives sales, but because it is the right thing to do. All good brands have clarity and commitment internally that drives behavior and should be strong enough to have given the senior journalists pause for thought before they crossed that line. And should the chips ever be really down, as they surely are at News International, there will be some deeper commitment to the brand that will mitigate a crisis. And here’s the insight: business ethics, CSR, and sustainability all drive longer-term commitment, loyalty, and advocacy, not short-term sales.

    But when News International  launches the Sunday Sun to fill the huge gap (market opportunity) left by News of the World, will the U.K. consumer boycott it? Or will they have forgotten about what was a sensational but momentary story and moved on to the next headline? Will our well-meaning, corporate citizenry be steamrolled by our inexorable mainstream appetite for the latest celebrity gossip? And will the Sunday Sun be built on equally shaky foundations? Let’s hope News International learns a lesson, and holds itself – and us – to a higher standard.

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  • Posted by: Damien Moore-Evans on Tuesday, June 28 2011 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

    The Barclays Premier League football season came to an end in May. This is normally a time where the typical British male is more than happy to take up summer BBQ duties until the new football season kicks off at the end of August, when normal service (TV, Couch and beer) can be resumed.

    The 2010/2011 football season was highly eventful, on and off the field.  Manchester United, probably the most recognizable football team in the world and a global brand in their own right, clinched a record 19 league titles! A couple of weeks after achieving this milestone Barcelona made them look like an average Sunday League team in the Champions League final at Wembley thanks to the mesmerizing Lionel Messi, Campeón de Campeones!

    But once again, the sport has been overshadowed by the private lives of these superstar footballers who are, dare they forget, role models to millions of children across the globe. We’ve seen in the past how John Terry and Wayne Rooney’s private affairs were splashed across the front pages. Terry was then stripped of the England Captain’s title for an entire year. However, the front pages really are only the beginning of their worries; social chat then carries these stories across sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Personally, these sites have really helped build my individual brand by growing my social presence online. It’s never been easier for people to communicate to their peers what’s happening in their lives. The difference here is that being a private citizen I choose what I write about myself on these sites whereas footballers are not so fortunate. They don’t need social media to build their own brand, they have accomplished this already. While social media sites can really elevate a superstar’s image, at the same time, the power of these sites can severely damage their reputation. The Youtube video above shows how some footballers are using Twitter (and arguably not their best judgement).

    I therefore ask myself HOW on earth these footballers think they can get away with the things they do? We live in a society where we are all being watched and now with social media super powers Facebook and Twitter, news has never spread so quickly! The recent saga surrounding footballer Ryan Giggs and Twitter is the perfect example of how social media can flip someone’s life on its head in a matter of hours.  His Super Injunction  was leaked on Twitter over a weekend and, although they were briefly taken down, the user had nearly 2,500 followers by Tuesday afternoon.

    Let’s hope these footballers learn to pull their socks up soon, best behave lads!

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  • Posted by: James Bickford on Monday, May 23 2011 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

    Rebranding 220 Shell service stations in New Zealand will cost NZ $35 million. But a rebrand means its owners, Greenstone Energy, will save around NZ $7 million a year in royalty fees.

    While the New Zealand-owned Greenstone claims 17,000 New Zealanders were surveyed about the change, I am unsure to what they were actually asked. In reality, this seems to be a case of an investment business deciding to cold shoulder Shell’s royalty fee, for long term financial gain. Meanwhile, they get to party wrap a new look for Kiwi’s to love and belong to.... yeah, right!

    According to CEO Mike Bennett, when ditching a global heritage brand, he said, "We arrived at Z because it's short, sharp and to the point. It reflects our national identity and our commitment to New Zealand. To us, Z is all about New Zealand."

    Apparently "Z" was chosen as it is the last letter of the alphabet and first letter of the last word in New Zealand. But there's more! The logo also represents the infinity symbol recognizing the millions of car journeys Kiwis take each year. According to "Z" we actually never get out of our cars. We drive them forever.

    But beyond this nice and simple description of a logo, the real story behind this new Kiwi brand appears to be in the delicious cupcakes and coffee that "Z" will serve and the 200 new employees to provide forecourt service during the day. Does this sound familiar? At my local Shell, forecourt staff offer to fill my car and I can get a great cupcake and coffee at BP’s Wild Bean Cafe.

    In my opinion, this is not a brand but an ABC kindergarten logo. A logo slapped up with the thought that selling Kiwi to Kiwi’s will fix everything. The rest of the world may recognize it as a logo that looks interestingly rather familiar. A piece of Astra Zeneca's logo, perhaps?

    This is not a rebrand but an investment company’s indulgence. The bottom line is that New Zealand has lost a heritage service brand that helped build this nation and has replaced it with a rather cheap and painfully bad logo of an independent petrol station — a logo that belongs at the bottom of the world.

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  • Posted by: Maryann Stump on Friday, May 13 2011 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

    "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer," goes the famous line from The Godfather Part II. It's good advice for a mafia don, but not so good for a brand. What happens when high profile employees' friends turn out to be enemies of your brand's reputation? That's the challenge facing blue chip brands Berkshire Hathaway, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Intel, and McKinsey & Company in the wake of Raj Rajaratnam's conviction for insider trading.

    The potential damage to the brands is serious for all. The nature of the damage is varied. For IBM and Intel the allegations that employees shared insider information hits directly at shareholders. For the press' favorite whipping boy Goldman Sachs it adds to the perception that the firm's aggressive style leads it to play close to the edge of the rules. McKinsey's business as the quiet, trusted advisor will take a hit if CEOs hesitate to confide in the firm. The damage to Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett could be worst of all if investors wonder why the Oracle of Omaha didn't see this coming.

    All five brands need to get out in front of this. Don't talk about generic ethics policies. Show clients, partners, and investors why they can and should believe in you. Trust is a table stake for every brand but when it is damaged, nothing else the brand does matters. It is a lesson these brands—and a host of others—should take to heart.

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