Top 9 Brand Blunders of All Time

Branding can be a dangerous business, as evidenced by these particularly heinous mistakes.

Brand blunders are different than brand disasters. You might face a brand disaster if outside events clobber your brand. (Example: the diet candy produced in the early 1980s ... named AYDES. Oops.) Brand blunders, however are self-inflicted wounds. All of these messes could have been avoided if, well, if the marketing folks involved had thought about these ideas for a little longer. --Geoffrey James

Most companies would celebrate if the entire world adopted their product name to describe an essential business activity. Not Xerox. For decades they've tried to kill the use of "xerox" as the standard term for "photocopying"--and instead have tried to broaden the brand into office automation and various kinds of computing. Meanwhile, they've had dwindling market share in what used to be called "xerox machines." Lesson: Once you're a household name, declare victory and move on.

Your cartoon mascot going viral on the web is a good thing, right? Apparently, Esurance thought otherwise--they terminated their wildly popular "Erin Esurance" campaign when they thought some of the fan spoofs had gotten too racy. The company has struggled for visibility ever since. Lesson: When customers embrace your brand, it's time to celebrate--not freak out with fear.

Amazingly, somebody at Colgate thought that consumers would eat packaged meals with the Colgate brand on it. Because, let's face it, nothing says "Mmmmm, good" like a mouthful of toothpaste. The fiasco was said to be responsible for lower toothpaste sales, too. Lesson: A brand's value is tied to the product.

When the No. 2 burger chain debuted its "King" mascot, executives undoubtedly thought the quirky campaign would increase sales. Apparently it never occurred to anybody that creeping people out probably won't make them hungry for fast food. Net effect: Burger King slipped to No. 3. Lesson: Any idiot can get attention; the trick is to drive buying behavior.

Gap changed its logo from the familiar blue square to a more "modern" design. After spending millions on the rebranding, the company encountered a firestorm of customer ire. They promptly changed the logo back--thereby wasting even more money. Lesson: Sometimes it's better to leave well enough alone.

When Miley Cyrus's Hannah Montana character became popular, Disney moved quickly to merchandise dozens of products. Some, like the plastic karaoke microphones, were appropriate spin-offs. Hannah Montana Brand Cherries ... maybe not so much. Lesson: Before you stick your brand on something, give it some thought first, OK?

In France, the company "Bull" (aka "Groupe Bull") is well known as business computing giant. In the U.S., however, the term "Bull" has different connotations. That fact got ignored when the French firm acquired named its U.S. division "Bull Worldwide Information Systems" ... which the tech world promptly shorted to "Bull Whiz." Yikes. Lesson: Don't let arrogance trump good sense.

Back when GM was struggling to remain solvent, marketing VP Jim Campbell sent out a memo to GM employees demanding they stop using the term "Chevy"--used with affection by the brand's customers--and instead use the official brand name "Chevrolet" in order to promote consistency in branding. Lesson: Foolish (brand) consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

When breaking into the highly competitive consumer PC market, Panasonic selected a popular cartoon character as the brand mascot its new machine. To create a "theme," they named the device itself "The Woody," its touch screen feature "Touch Woody" ... and its automatic web browsing feature "The Internet Pecker." (We wish we were kidding.) Lesson: Never create a brand name without first running it by some slang-savvy translators.

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