When Bad Things Happen To Your Brand


Sometimes things go wrong, and brands get damaged.

Sometimes you have a late-night Thanksgiving car accident and your entire personal and professional life unravels before your eyes.

What bad things happen, brands need to rebuild.

For a brand like Nike Golf, once so aligned with Tiger Woods, that presents a daunting challenge.  And I like how they’ve handled it. Over the past few months, Nike Golf has been running an ad for their “Method” putter, showcasing the technology behind the club. It is a series of behind-the-scenes shots with pro golfers working together with Nike to create the perfect putter. One of the golfers just happens to be Tiger Woods.

He isn’t the centerpeice of the commercial. This isn’t a commercial about Tiger Woods. This is just a commercial about golf club technology that happens to include Tiger. It is a gentle reintegration of Tiger into the Nike brand.  The subtlty of the move is entirely calculated. Nike is being very cautious, because the Tiger Woods brand is dangerous – both because of his personal troubles and his shaky golf ever since the scandal hit.

Plenty of rock stars have bottom out, only to rise again.

For Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash, their comebacks were linked to collaborations with a fresh new generation of musicians. Santana recorded Supernatural with help from Rob Thomas, Everlast, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and others. Johnny Cash teamed up with producer Rick Rubin and recorded his own interpretations of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Depeche Mode, and U2.

But Santana and Cash hadn’t commited the kind of social crimes that Tiger Woods did.

Maybe a better comparison is Chris Brown, who is still rebuilding his career after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. Brown was carefully reintroduced at a Michael Jackson tribute, where he performed an emotional version of “Man In The Mirror” that left many people feeling like the singer deserved another chance.  But then in March controversy arose again when Brown was accused of becoming violent in his dressing room after a Good Morning America interview that probed into the Rihanna affair and the restraining order against him. It remains to be seen if the career of the very talented Chris Brown can be rebuilt.

What can a brand in trouble learn from Tiger Woods, Chris Brown, Santana, and Johnny Cash?

* Take it slowly. Don’t try to conquer the world right away.

* Don’t make it about you. Instead, be humble. Tiger is doing that with the new Nike ads. Chris Brown did it with the Michael Jackson tribute.

* Find a few friends who can lend you credibility. Santana and Johnny Cash did that with tremendous results.

* In the end, being honest and straightforward will win you a lot of friends. Just ask Hugh Grant, who famously quipped “I did a bad thing, and there you have it” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, shortly after Grant was arrested with a prostitute. Hugh’s career would have probably suffered a great deal more had he not been so forthcoming.

Chapter Thirteen of Brand Like a Rock Star is all about reviving brands that have been left for dead. What can your business learn from Johnny Cash and Old Spice? Find out when you pre-order the book now.


Chris Brown, Johnny Cash, Nike, Old Spice, Santana, Tiger Woods, Uncategorized 1,285 Comments

How Controversy Can Benefit Your Brand


This past week, a 26 year-old song by Dire Straits became a top-seller in Canada. “Money For Nothing” found itself once again on the charts as people downloaded the song in droves after Canada’s broadcasting content regulator issued a ruling effectively banning airplay of the unedited version of the song.  The issue at hand is Mark Knopfler’s use of the word “faggot” three times in the song, which the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled was in violation of their codes of conduct.

The vast majority of people – gay, straight, and otherwise – were perplexed by the ruling, and many of them instantly went to iTunes and paid 99 cents to hear what all of the fuss was about.

Dire Straits hasn’t had a significant hit since the early 90s, and the band broke up in 1995.  Today, after years of relative obscurity, they are once again on the charts thanks to the power of a good controversy.

Controversy, in certain circumstances, can be a great thing for a brand.

Throughout the years, Calvin Klein has been the subject of controversy because of their sexually suggestive advertising.  Their ads have not only featured revealing and suggestive images, but they have also blurred the lines of age, sexual orientation, and even gender identity.  They have consistently been the target of complaints for their ads, yet they continue to be a very successful clothing brand.  The complaints only serve to make their brand identity stronger.

Red Bull has been beaten up many times over.  In 2009, Red Bull exported from Austria was discoverd to contain trace amounts of cocaine.  A 2008 study reported that drinking even one can of Red Bull had negative impact on blood coagulation and raised cardiovascular risks.  The drink was even banned in France, Norway, and Denmark, although the bans have since been lifted in Norway and Denmark.  Today, despite it all, Red Bull is the most popular energy drink in the world.

On the other hand, the list of brands that have been damaged a great deal by controversy is long. Tiger Woods. British Petroleum. Union Carbide. Gary Glitter. Certainly nothing good can come to any brand that destroy’s the environment (BP), kills people (Union Carbide), lies to people (Tiger Woods), and hurts children (Gary Glitter).

So when does controversy benefit the brand?

1. When the controversy speaks to the brand’s image. Calvin Klein fashions are all about sex, so generating controversy over sexually-suggestive ads is perfectly in-line with the brand’s image. Red Bull is most popular with young, edgy consumers who thrive on danger. Controversy that positions Red Bull as dangerous is perfect for the brand’s image.

2. When the controversy doesn’t (directly) hurt anyone. The impact of hearing Dire Straits say “faggot” isn’t instantly measurable and is certainly up for debate. Viewing suggestive Calvin Klein ads might be detrimental to someone, but it is impossible to determine who and how. Red Bull has only been indirectly link to deaths such as a 2009 instance where a 21 year-old woman died after drinking four cans of Red Bull.  But the drinks were mixed with alcohol, and it was later determined that she had a rare heart condition and epilepsy.

3. When the controversy is temporary.  Soon we’ll all forget about “Money For Nothing” again. Calvin Klein ads will be taken down and new ones put up. Some future research will show that Red Bull is safe. For all of these brands, the controversies will come and go and come again. While controversy is good for each of these brands, it cannot be the only thing driving them forward. They can thrive on temporary controversy, but seldom can controversy form a brand’s primary directive.

Controversy, handled properly, can be a great thing for a brand.  For the right brand at the right time, it can quickly help build brand identity, create excitement, raise awareness, and move product.

BP, Calvin Klein, Dire Straits, Gary Glitter, Red Bull, Tiger Woods, Union Carbide 251 Comments

Top 5 Brand Like A Rock Star Posts of 2009

The idea for “Brand Like a Rock Star” had been kicking around in my head for a few months.  The initial concept was a book about how Jimmy Buffett turned a simple three-chord beach tune into the Margaritaville mega-brand.  One night in February I sat under the stars in Austin, Texas jotting down notes about the idea when it occured to me that the music industry is full of great stories that show how brands should, and shouldn’t, be built.

The first post went up March 13, and since then almost 3000 readers in 65 countries have visited to the site.  I’m quite honored and flattered that so many people have enjoyed the blog and contributed to it.  Since March, 87 posts have been created and the blog has served as my notes for the development of the book.  2010 will be the year that “Brand Like a Rock Star” grows from a blog into a book, and I will keep you updated on the progress.  In the meantime, here are the top 5 most read posts from the blog this year.

5. September 2 – Bob Marley: The Million Dollar Niche Market

Bob Marley is the best example of someone who didn’t compromise their style, beliefs, and music in the name of success.  Marley did his thing, and brought the world to him… instead of the other way around.  Sadly, that sense of conviction ended up killing him.  Bob Marley refused to have his cancerous toe amputated because of his Rastafarian beliefs.  The cancer spread, and took his life.

4. December 3 – Tiger Needs To Attack!

Every branding blogger had to give their two cents on how the team handling Tiger Woods dealt with the controversy of 2009.  This was my take, and looking back at it a month later I think I was right.

3. September 14 – Partnerships: Currencies of Credibility

This post was one that kind of got forgotten after I wrote it, and only now – looking back at the year – did I notice how popular it was.  It makes sense, and rings true when you look at the Tiger Woods scandal from a sponsorship point of view.

2. October 7 – Jerry Garcia: Master Marketer

Deadheads made this post one of the most viewed postings in 2009.  I’m not certain Jerry Garcia always consciously knew he was making groundbreaking marketing decisions, but he sure made a lot of smart ones.

1. December 11 – Forty Years Ahead of Their Time

Again the Deadheads spread the word on Twitter and made this posting easily the most viewed on the Brand Like a Rock Star blog in 2009.  The essence of the post is that Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead were really the first social media and file-sharing experts, forty years ahead of their time.  When you look at amazing brands in rock and roll, the Grateful Dead comes up a lot.

Apple, best of 2009, Bob Marley, Grateful Dead, Harley Davidson, Jerry Garcia, Jimmy Buffett, Tiger Woods 222 Comments

The Tiger Needs To Attack


Note to Tiger Woods: the head-in-the-sand PR techniques of 20 years ago don’t work today. Stop using them.  So come clean, and then ask your fans for forgiveness and the media hounds for privacy.

The PR game changed with Hugh Grant’s 1995 encounter with the LAPD while receiving favors from a Sunset Boulevard prostitute.   His arrest happened a few weeks before the release of “Nine Months“, his first major studio movie release.  Against the advice of many PR experts at the time, Hugh Grant attacked his scandal head on, going on The Tonight Show and telling Jay Leno “I did a bad thing”.  Hugh Grant continues to be a major star 15 years later.

Micheal Phelps had to face the music last year, when videos emerged of him smoking marijuana at a party.  Phelps came forward and apologized for his “bad judgement”.  While his career took a short term hit (no pun intended), he is back and his place in history will be as one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.  The sponsorship money he lost will eventually come back.  All will be fine.

David Letterman has demonstrated brilliantly how to address scandal in today’s fast-moving media age.  When an extortion attempt threatened to bring his infidelity public, Letterman went on the offensive, apologizing very frankly and directly on the air for his mistakes.   In the wake of his confession, Letterman’s ratings skyrocketed.

The story will come out eventually. That’s simply the nature of modern media. And what comes out in the interim could be more harmful than the reality.

Tiger Woods should take a lesson from Letterman, Phelps, and Grant.  Face the situation head on.  Never say “no comment.”  Admit mistakes, expose yourself as human, and ask for forgiveness and a degree of privacy while you deal with the situation.

In the short term, you might lose some of the $100 million you bagged last year in sponsorship money.  But it will come back to normal.

In the short term, you might feel your brand has suffered.  It has.  But that’s okay.  It will come back to normal.

And in the short term, your personal life might be a living hell.  But with some work, that can come back to normal as well.

The best advice for brands facing controversy and scandal in the digital age is to be engaged.

* Be real.  Be human.  You are more likely to gain sympathy from other real humans, like us.

* Establish a dialogue.  The discussion will happen,with or without you… so why not get involved?

* Don’t leave the media to set the tone.  Get the story out on your terms, like Letterman did.

Hopefully Tiger Woods gets some advice like this from his insiders soon, so that the media can leave his story alone and move on to the next balloon boy, White House party crashers, or John & Kate.

David Letterman, Hugh Grant, Jay Leno, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods 1,690 Comments