Brand Nightmares


Halloween is a time for ghoulish tales, and it’s good to get into the spirit (sorry). But you don’t necessarily have to turn to the likes of Stephen King for your horror fix. Sometimes, you need only flick through the colourful history of your own industry to find terrifying tales that make your hair stand on end, and give you goosebumps…

1. Ratners

Through a series of publicity stunts and takeover deals in the 1980s, Gerald Ratner built his business into the world’s biggest brand of jewellery.

But just 11 years later Ratner managed to destroy his empire in the space of a single sentence. In a speech to the Institute of Directors in London, he said the secret to Ratner’s success was that many of its items of jewellery were ‘total crap’ (start the car).

He further joked that Ratner’s earrings were likely to last for less time than a Marks & Spencer sandwich (ber dum tsch). Yes, the room filled with laughter, but Ratner’s investors and customers didn’t see the joke.

The company’s share price plummeted from £2 to less than 8p, and consumer confidence sank without trace. Group profits fell from £112 million in 1991 to losses of £122 million a year later.

It’s the way you tell ‘em Gerald.

2. Post Office Group

Remember Consignia..?

In January 2002 the Post Office was rebranded as Consignia.
Chief Executive John Roberts declared the new name was ‘modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate’ to the rapidly evolving organisation.

The media and general public thought otherwise. They thought it sounded like an aftershave or deodorant. Others thought it was an electricity company and a few thought it was a new brand of cigarettes.

The BBC’s website referred to it as ‘the most notorious ever Post Office robbery – that of the name itself.’ The Beeb asked the British public to e-mail their opinions of the name. Their responses were almost unanimously critical of the re-brand.

As the Post Office’s corporate performance started to falter, the name was blamed even more, and in May 2002 saw a U-turn as the new Consignia chairman Allan Leighton confirmed the name was to go – ‘probably in less than two years.’

He also admitted that he hated the name.

3. Clairol’s ‘Touch of Yoghurt’ shampoo

Launched in 1979, Clairol’s yoghurt-based shampoo failed to win over customers, mainly because nobody liked the idea of washing their hair with yoghurt.
Some of those that did buy the product, apparently fell ill. They thought the product was edible!

The ‘Touch of Yoghurt’ concept was a bizarre one, but not unprecedented. Three years earlier, Clairol introduced a similar shampoo called the ‘Look of Buttermilk.’
That product instantly bombed in test markets where consumers were left asking: what exactly is the ‘look of buttermilk’ and why should I want it?

4. British Airways

In 1996 British Airways went through an expensive rebranding exercise. It couldn’t have picked a worse time. The media connected the expensive makeover with the ‘cost-saving’ redundancies announced shortly afterwards.

The airline had abandoned the Union Jack colours on the tail-fin, and replaced them with a series of different images representing a more international identity.
The general public saw this move as unpatriotic, and Richard Branson, boss of the company’s arch-rival Virgin Atlantic, was quick to rub salt into the gaping wound by designing Union Jacks onto Virgin aircraft and using British Airways’ former ‘Fly the Flag’ slogan.

Margaret Thatcher apparently put pressure on British Airways to seriously consider the implications of the ‘hideous designs’, and soon afterwards British Airways scrapped the new and expensive tail-fin designs.

Ironically, US customers and partners had started to complain that they wanted Britain’s flagship airline to look more British.

And finally…

5. Coors Lager

Coor’s slogan ‘Turn it loose’ conveys a completely different meaning in Spanish.

In the USA version, the beer is supposed to help the drinker to become ‘loose’– y’know, chill out, relax remove the tension man – enabling any drinker to enjoy the present moment. You dig it?

However, the Spanish ‘translation’ interprets Coors ‘Turn it loose’ as ‘get loose bowels.’


Bottoms up!

Not surprisingly, sales were not as prolific as predicted.

Cheers for reading, and happy Halloween.

By Russ Henderson

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