Here is a quick and fun look at some of the top Brand Chumps for 2013. I define a Brand Chump as a leader or person within an organization who isn’t on board with the desired brand and its promise and can provide great harm to the company and its brand. Whether or not it is intentional, Brand Chumps are individuals who harm the company’s ability to reach its goals and objectives. Thus, these Brand Chumps need to step and let someone who everyone has confidence in lead the company and deliver on its brand to obtain goals and objectives. This list includes both individuals and companies who have failed to advance their company’s brand. In fact, most have severely tarnished them.
1) ACA (Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare) & Kathleen Sebelius – When the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, was signed into law in 2010, it was meant to grant access to affordable and quality healthcare to more citizens than ever before. What seemed like a great idea quickly spun out of control. Within the first few days of consumers shopping for health care plans on the ObamaCare website, the site crashed. Not only could the website not handle the traffic, but numerous people were reporting having lost their current health care as well. What kind of roll out is that? They aimed to serve millions of people, yet their website couldn’t handle the volume. If any one of us ran a company, website project or product launch like this, they would have been fired long ago.
2) Lance Armstrong – After years of allegations against Lance Armstrong and his seven consecutive Tour de France victories, he finally came clean to the world. The one thing everyone feared had become reality when Armstrong confessed to his use of illegal PEDs during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Yes, Lance cheated. Once a hero to so many had become a cheat and fraud to most. In January of 2013, Armstrong sat down with Winfrey and quickly rattled off his “Yes” answers to the use of Erythropoietin (EPO), blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone, human growth hormone (HGH), blood doping, and other banned substances during his career as a professional cyclist. Armstrong admitted to being “arrogant” and a “bully” and that his successes were “one big lie.” Even though the man was able to overcome great adversity to survive stage-four cancer, this obstacle may be one that has damaged his career and image forever. Only time will tell. Lance Armstrong pedaled his way quickly to the list of Brand Chumps in 2013.
3) JC Penney/Ron Johnson – In 2011, JC Penney appointed Ron Johnson as their new CEO. Johnson had held an executive position with Apple and when he took over at JC Penney he tried to reposition and rebrand it based on his experience at Apple. What he did not take into consideration are the JCP customers. Department shoppers LOVE a bargain and Johnson did away with almost all the promotions and sales that the consumers had kept them shopping at JCP for years. This new brand he created, complete with new ad campaigns and a new logo, failed to connect with the customer base and caused sales and the brand to plummet. They have since fired the Brand Chump and returned to their roots. Needless to say, Johnson’s new brand strategy was a failure of epic proportions because JC Penney has since tried to erase his existence with the company reversing all of his efforts.
4) Paula Deen – In the summer, celebrity chef Paula Deen earned her spot on the list of Brand Chumps in 2013. Deen made a variety of racial slurs and remarks that not only cost her Food Network show but millions in endorsements. When undergoing a videoed deposition as part of a court case brought by a former employee of Paula Deen Enterprises for sexual and racial workplace discrimination, Deen admits to using the “N-word” and making multiple racist and anti-Semitic jokes. Specifically, Deen was assertive in her answers when she was asked if she has ever used the “N-word” by replying, “Yes, of course.” Even under oath, Deen spoke of a fantasy that had black men dressed up as slaves for a wedding. What? This Southern chef clearly didn’t think twice when making such remarks. Not only was this a blow to the Food Network but for Deen’s brand as a whole. The best way to drive off your sponsors and ruin all credibility is to make a racial slur as obnoxious and disturbing as this. Her faux pas was the ultimate Brand Chump behavior.
5) Lululemon/Chip Wilson – What a year Lululemon has had! Their series of unfortunate events started earlier this year in March with a recall of their famous black yoga pants because they were see-through. In the following months, customers were still flooding the brand’s social media channels complaining that the $100 pants were still not opaque enough. That brings us to CEO Chip Wilson’s harsh words. In an interview featured on Bloomberg TV, Wilson said about the sheer pants, “they don’t work for some women’s bodies. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it.” Not only did Wilson piss of a number of his followers, but even his wife and co-founder, Shannon Wilson. If that’s not a “you REALLY messed up” look, then I don’t know what is. As if that wasn’t enough bad PR for the year, a Lululemon store in Bethesda, Maryland thought it would be funny to bring up the sheer pants comment again with a holiday window sign donning the words, “Spiced chai, apple pies, rubbing thighs?” Surely he’s had enough by now, as he has agreed to step down as CEO come the start of 2014.
6) Rob Ford – Once again another politician making headlines in the wrong way. Rob Ford, the current mayor of Toronto, brought quite a bit of negative attention onto himself in 2013. Quite frankly, you can call Ford’s actions “shenanigans” because the guy is the furthest thing from a mature politician. Ford confessed to smoking crack cocaine, or in his words, used crack cocaine “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” Furthermore, Ford ran over Councilor Pam McConnell at a Toronto city council meeting to limit Ford’s power as Mayor. Other brash behaviors include viral videos of him drunk as well as admitting to frequently smoking marijuana. The unapologetic Rob Ford successfully earned a Brand Chump title and certainly did not do Toronto any brand favors.
7) Abercrombie & Fitch/Mike Jeffries – Unfortunately this is another example of a true Brand Chump that has tarnished the reputation of his company’s brand because of his ignorant comments. CEO Mike Jeffries has been crouched quietly in the media shadows for the last 7 years. His comments about the Abercrombie & Fitch brand being marketed to only the “cool” kids resurfaced this summer. In an article published on salon.com in 2006 Jeffries said, “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” Women especially were outraged when Jeffries was back in the media. It was brought to consumers’ attention that A&F doesn’t carry women’s sizes XL or XXL, whereas its biggest competitor American Eagle carries jeans up to size 18 and tops up to XXL. A whopping 67% of the United States fits the “extra-large” label. Despite Jeffries’ ignorance, the A&F brand continues to grow and his exclusive marketing is still appealing to those “cool” kids.
8) MSNBC (Martin Bashir & Alec Baldwin) – Within the last couple of months these former “leftists” hosts and MSNBC have done a brand and career kamikaze. To start off, Alec Baldwin was caught on camera lashing out a homophobic slur to a New York Post photographer when trying to enter a vehicle with his wife and child. He chased the photographer down the sidewalk shouting explicit words and anti-gay phrases. While he may have viewed this as harmless, trying to protect his family from the annoyance of media paparazzi, his comments cost him dearly. After beginning his new show on MSNBC “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” in early October, it was quickly axed in late November after his remarks were caught on camera and went public. Shortly thereafter, Martin Bashir used his show as an opportunity to go off on Sarah Palin’s comments of comparing the nation’s national debt to slavery. While Palin may have been vague in her analogy, Bashir crossed a line calling her a “dunce” and that she qualified for slavery like punishment of “defecation” and “urination” in her mouth. While everyone is subject to their opinions, Bashir used poor judgment when making these remarks on live television. The stupid and outlandish things Baldwin and Bashir said not only had the network and brand taking a beating, but has truly qualified them as Brand Chumps in 2013.
9) Ryanair – Ryanairwas started in 1984 to be a wallet-friendly Irish airline servicing mostly European countries. Twenty percent of their income comes from sources other than ticket sales. So what exactly is Ryanair making their money on? Because they are a “low-cost” business model, there are a number of fees associated with the airfare itself. They charged for airport check in as opposed to online check in, checked bags, and an inflight beverage among other things. In 2009, some of these fees were dropped, but Ryanair is still criticized for poor customer service. This is what led CEO Mike O’Leary to open a live Twitter chat with the hashtag #GrillMOL. The brand had already been taking a beating for having “no frills.” Literally, NO frills; their new planes have non-reclining seats, no seat-back pockets, the safety cards are stuck on the backs of the seats and the life jackets are stowed overhead. With these cut backs, the airline saves on aircraft cost and can clean and perform safety checks much quicker. They have considered as much as removing two toilets to add six more seats and redesigning the aircraft to allow standing passengers in “vertical seats.” The results of the live chat were nothing short of hilarious and O’Leary made himself, and his entire company look foolish.
10) Spirit Airlines – Another classic example of a company who has no creative talent and thus has to try way too hard to get noticed. Over the summer, Spirit Airlines started running an online ad featuring Carlos Danger titled “The Weiner Rises Again” featuring a hotdog holding a cell phone. Meant to be a play on former congressman Anthony Weiner who was accused of “sexting” with a 22-year old female, Weiner had used the handle “Carlos Danger” when speaking to the woman. What executive in the firm thought that an ad full of really bad innuendos and super cheesy images was a good idea? What a way to obtain one of 2013’s top Brand Chumps!
Don’t be a Brand Chump, it hurts you and your Brand, instead be a Brand Champion that promotes the Brand, the integrity, value and just what your brand stands for!