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Six times brand agencies went wrong

Most of the times branding agencies get it right, but when they go wrong, it can go very wrong.

Brand agencies have to be extremely close to an organisation’s in-house team. It’s usually a long-term partnership to to create and then develop, maintain and improve the business.

It means that a brand agency needs to have a real understanding of the business, so they can communicate the present, while also looking to future direction and strategy.

Most of the times branding agencies get it right, but when they go wrong, it can go very wrong.

Coca Cola cans

1. Lost in translation

Really, we could devote the whole of this article to times that brands and branding agencies should have researched local markets ahead of launch. 

Coca Cola has a bit of an excuse when it first marketed the product in China - it was 1920 after all. Who would have thought that the phonetical translation of its brand name would become the somewhat less appetising “Bite The Wax Tadpole”?

For the sake of balance, Pepsi’s Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation didn’t fair very well in Taiwan, with billboards proclaiming: Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”

KFC also had an issue in Asia, when Finger-Lickin’Good become “Eat Your Fingers Off” in the Chinese market.

One of the most famous brand translation stories, the Chevy Nova, is an urban myth. The story went that the car, didn’t sell well in Spanish speaking countries, because no va means doesn’t work. However, actually it sold very well, because “nova” and “no va” are not only pronounced differently, they also mean different things.

Ford did, however, have to change the name of its Pinto in Brazil to Corcel. Proving that car buyers preferred “horse” to “small penis.”

Clairol’s Mist Stick also had issues in Germany, mist is slang for manure.

Staying in Germany, if you’d ever wondered why Vicks is branded Wick, well it’s all down to the pronunciation of the “v” which sounds more like an “f” in German, which is slang for sexual intercourse.

The two logos side-by-side

2. Gapgate

It was such a huge story at the time, it even got its own -gate. Gapgate was one of the swiftest brand roll backs on record as the global clothing retailer revealed a rebrand and then reversed at speed.

In fact, so quick was the reversal, that some even speculate that the entire rebrand and then retreat was a carefully thought out marketing campaign.

Needless to say it took 6 days from the new logo going live for the old logo to return.

So, let’s go back to the beginning. Gap had had the same logo for 20 years and decided that it needed a refresh, particularly given the financial crisis of 2008.

A New York creative agency was brought in to come up with an alternative. The cost for the “modern, sexy and cool” logo is often cited as $100m.

The backlash was both immediate and very negative.

It was launched without a fanfare and that may have led to such a large social media campaign. Thousands of negative comments on its blog and a parody "Design your own Gap logo" Twitter account got thousands of suggestions sent in.

In fact Gap jumped on this and asked customers to share their designs for a “crowdsourced” new logo. 

This is why sceptical types think that this was all planned. After all, the logo designers, New York’s Laird and Partners are behind iconic campaigns for Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Boss and many more.

The crowdsourcing idea wasn’t enough though, instead Gap took less than a week to revert to their “iconic blue box logo” and apologised for not engaging with their online community.


3. Tropicana sales drop

In 2009 there must have been something in the water, because it’s also the same year that Tropicana decided to undergo a brand refresh.

This was no small rebrand either, it included a new logo, new packaging, a new colour palette. All of this was supported by a major marketing campaign.

It meant the traditional orange was dropped in favour of a glass of orange juice. The prominent green logo was moved from front and centre to a different green running up the side of the packaging.

The move led to a reported 20% fall in sales, as customers failed to recognise the product they’d been used to.

Understandably, they reverted to the original branding.

4. Leeds United goes back to the drawing board

Leeds United was very excited to reveals its new club crest to celebrate its centenary season in 2019/2020.

Fans were less than convinced.

According to the club, it consulted more than 10k supporters before unveiling its “Leeds salute” badge.

The club said it was “delighted” with the design because it represented “the passion and the unique identity that runs deep through the club.”

Leeds' fanzine Square Ball said: 

“A big glossy, exercise in branding done by a consultant in Shoreditch. We need to go for a soya milk latte and a lie down.”

Others likened it to the Gaviscon logo.

Ultimately fan power prevailed and Leeds’ Managing Director said it was time to go back to the drawing board.

Tom Dougherty, user experience director at Leeds agency Delete told Prolific North: 

"When you factor in the bold and radically different new design, it’s easy to see why supporters have reacted as strongly as they have. A club crest, in particular, is as cherished as a national flag. In some cases it means more, and stands for more to the team’s supporters, so any slight modification, let alone a fundamental overhaul has the tendency to cause mass hysteria.”

It won’t be the first club, nor will it be the last to bow down to fan pressure. A few years earlier, Everton wanted to modernise by ditching the Latin phrase, Nil Satis Nisi Optimum. A number of petitions later and it was reinstated.

5. Bic For Her

You’d have thought Ellen DeGeneres devoting almost 5 minutes to your new product would be a pretty good thing.

Not when it was BIC for Her.

Ellen on Bic for Her

Initially the launch went under the radar. According to BIC they had been designed to fit “comfortably in a woman’s hand” with an “attractive" design in pink and purple.

Then the Amazon reviews arrived.

“Someone has answered my gentle prayers and FINALLY designed a pen that I can use all month long! I use it when I'm swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It's comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty! Since I've begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approachable. It has given me soft skin and manageable hair and it has really given me the self-esteem I needed to start a book club and flirt with the bag-boy at my local market. My drawings of kittens and ponies have improved, and now that I'm writing my last name hyphenated with Robert Pattinson's last name, I really believe he may some day marry me! I'm positively giddy. Those smart men in marketing have come up with a pen that my lady parts can really identify with.”

And then there were the Q&A’s:

“Is it safe for my husband to use?”

“If I write something with these pens, does that mean whatever I write is still wrong?”

BIC for Her is now unavailable. The reviews are still online though.

6. When brand marketing went really well

Yes, we said 6, but let’s end on a positive brand transformation.

For years Proctor & Gamble’s Old Spice brand had been the butt of jokes. It was pretty embarrassing, even to your dad. 

When Wieden+Kennedy promised to give the old-fashioned fragrance a modern turnaround, well it could have been an absolute failure.

They drafted in Isiah Mustafa, a former American football star to be the new face of the fragrance and it was an unparalleled success story.

Smell like a man, man

The 2010 “Smell Like a Man, Man” commercial was a huge hit. It was supported with social activity, including a spoof feud with alternative spokesperson, Italian model, Fabio - which in itself garnered headlines.

CNN Report

The stats are pretty astonishing, according to Wieden+Kennedy, total video views reached 40m in a week and campaign impressions were 1.4bn.

And probably more importantly for the client, Old Spice Bodywash sales rose 125% in the US alone.

To view some of the agencies that get it right, check out the case studies on Brands and Agencies.