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Bad Branding – 4 High Profile Examples All Businesses Can Learn From

Your brand; it’s your business’s public face and reputation. Brand building is a long-term endeavor, and it’s not something that you can just do once and then forget about. As with many business initiatives, it requires consistency and persistence. There was a time when it was products that ruled the roost, and when sales started to drop off, the company would look at improving its products or launching a new model.

In the last few decades, however, brands have become far more important. If sales drop off, it may not be product quality that’s at fault, but rather the public’s band perception. Sometimes, something as simple as a bad logo or a poorly chosen price point can nearly ruin a company.

Just because many of the following examples are from large companies, don’t think that you can ignore your brand if you run a small, local business. Brand building is still just as vital for a local restaurant, auto repair facility, or health care provider.

In fact, even individuals are finding that brand building can greatly increase their opportunities. The individual branding trend is on the upswing, whether they’re in the job market, or run a single-person consulting business. Blogging and social media has enabled individuals to greatly accelerate their brand building efforts.

Now, a look at some branding missteps and what they can teach you about your brand building efforts. Here are a few specific examples of bad branding decisions and the lessons we can learn from them.

Branding problems

A face only a mother could love? Perhaps not, but too few consumers loved the car enough to part wit their hard earned dollars for it. While the looks alone may not have been enough to sink Edsel, it and oter problems conspired to torpedo the brand.

1. Ford Edsel

The Ford Edsel is a classic example of the wrong product at the wrong time, and the wrong price.  The car was launched as a top-of-the-line car with a powerful engine, at a time when people didn’t have the money for that sort of thing.

It was too expensive and too fuel hungry, leading to poor early adoption. It also had controversial styling, which some customers loved, but most found downright unattractive. To make matters worse, the few people who did buy the Edsel at launch found that there were many manufacturing problems. This was an example of a company failing in quality control, and badly misunderstanding their market.

It’s puzzling, considering Ford had been in the auto business longer than anyone at that time. It does illustrate that even market leaders sometimes make brand mistakes. They are often in a better position to recover from them though, while a similar error can kill a smaller business.


If the Sci Fi channel had done even one quick Google search they would have realized that changing their name to SyFy was a bad idea.  For starters, the term is slang for a rather unpleasant social disease!  That’s not the only thing which is wrong with the re-branding though.

Around about the same time that the channel decided  to change its name, it also shifted its programming choices quite a bit, ditching hard science fiction shows in favour of shows that many viewers felt had no place on the channel.  There are two lessons here:  Firstly, if you’re coining a new word, check it doesn’t already mean something, and secondly, never forget who your core audience is.

3.The 2012 Olympics Logo

What the heck is it? Too many consumers had the same reaction, leading many pundits to label the 2012 Summer Olympics logo a brading mistake.

The 2012 Olympics logo is supposed to look like a stylized version of the numbers 2012, but when it was unveiled the response from the public ranged from “I don’t get it” to laughter at the way that it looked like two well known cartoon characters performing an obscene act.

Either way, it’s not the sort of thing people would want to carry on printed carrier bags full of Olympic souvenirs.  It’s ugly, childish, and not worth the design fee.  Sadly, designs are always a matter of taste, but if you want to launch a new logo, show it to lots of focus groups first!

4.Harley Davidson’s Failed Foray into Perfume

In the 1990s, Harley Davidson decided that they wanted to explore the world of merchandising. Harley Davidson had already forayed into merchandising, with patches, printed mugs, jackets, and various biker related clothing products. All of those items had been fairly successful.  However, an over-enthusiastic marketing executive decided that the brand should try to reach other audiences – and launched perfume.

This backfired in a big way, and alienated their core group of consumers. It also didn’t meet the company’s product goals, failing to capture the audience of people who like perfume, but don’t ride bikes.

The lessons here?  Stick to your core brand values. Don’t dilute your brand in search of higher revenue. It is the same whether you run a local contracting business, a restaurant, or a Fortune 500 multi-national. Your brand is the public face of your business. It’s one of the things customers connect with. You spend years building brand equity. Don’t let one poor decision destroy that.

If you know of any really stupid branding decisions…Chevy Nova in hispanic countries, for example, please drop me a line and let me know in the comments…

This guest post was written by James Harper on behalf of UK PrintPrice, experts with corporate branded products.

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