As I drove down our street this morning, to drop my son off at school, my nostrils were assaulted by the evidence that one of God’s creatures was compelled – by imminent threat or by rapidly-revolving Goodyears – to let loose a malodorous expression of its displeasure.
Even now, as I sit in my home office typing, the air quality has one overriding, pungent aspect to it…
It stinks around here.
No matter how many other pleasant scents, sounds, and scenes are outside, all are temporarily obscured by an overpowering odor that none can ignore.
And that appropriately describes the nightmare scenario for any brand.
A company, industry, individual, or other entity that can broadly be described as a “brand” can so violate the black and white rules of good behavior or great marketing that it officially stinks. This is not a good thing.
A couple weeks ago, my wife admiringly commented on a vehicle we were passing in a parking lot. In fact, it actually did look pretty nice on the surface. Then I noticed that it was a VW Touareg. Now, I have absolutely nothing against Volkswagen cars. But I so violently despised this particular naming choice, that I simply cannot get past the stench of it. Is it petty that I actually would not consider owning a vehicle because I hate the name? I freely admit it. But why would a company choose to brand a car with a name that stinks?
Most of my consulting work is with the pharmaceutical industry. And in the past 10 years, the reputation of this industry has gone south in a big way. The sales rep arms race. Spending-for-influence among doctors. Biased study results. Questionable DTC practices. Patenting incremental changes. The list could go on and on, but here’s the point: it stinks around here. Medicines introduced by pharmaceutical companies have done untold good in millions of lives, and multiplied thousands of good, dedicated people work in the industry, but Brand Pharma right now is surrounded by an unpleasant odor that obscures all the positives.
O.J. Simpson had it all. And, in spectacular fashion, he self-destructed, to the point where his very name and person is anathema to the vast majority who have followed the downward spiral of his post-gridiron life. Brand O.J. officially stinks, and his latest scrape with the law only wafts the scent higher.
Brands should aspire to leave a sweet aroma in the memory of all those touched by them. We should hope that our customers will want to, so to speak, throw open the window and breathe deeply. But certainly, at the very least, we should also hold to the simple avoidance aspiration encapsulated in Google’s corporate philosophy; “Don’t be evil.” Because once you stink, it’s awfully hard to shed the aroma.
Come to think of it, I’ve got to go close the window now…