3 Embarrassing Branding Mistakes

by | Dec 21, 2022

Branding mistakes can devastate your business. This is a fact that may seem ridiculous to the general public. If you ask your average person, a brand is merely a specific version of something. It’s the type of laundry detergent they buy, the soda they drink, the phone in their pocket. To a consumer, it can appear that there is no point to them outside of their intended purpose.

3 Embarrassing Branding Mistakes

But you know branding is more than that. It’s the reason that people always buy the same laundry detergent, what makes them cringe when they hear, “Is Pepsi okay?” and why they and thousands of others will camp out overnight to buy a new phone each year.

Branding has a long history starting all the way back when people first began marking their property with a physical brand — like cattle. It has since evolved to represent something so much more. What started out as a mark of ownership became a seal of quality, a way to relay a concept, and an embodiment of values. A member of your team can now represent your brand — sometimes even more than your product.

Building your brand is an essential step in marketing your company. Any business, whether big or small, isn’t exempt from making a branding mistake. Even if you think you have your brand mastered, it’s surprisingly easy to overlook something along the way. Unfortunately, when broadcasting yourself to the world, seemingly simple mistakes can be embarrassing, and the consequences can damage your reputation and your relationship with customers.

Here are 3 embarrassing branding mistakes you might be making and what can happen when you make them.

#1. Believing Your Brand Is Only Colors And A Logo

First, do not misinterpret this section to mean your company’s logo and color scheme are unimportant. They’re extremely important. Colors and logos are signals you use to get an audience to think of your company and brand. Picture the golden arches of McDonald’s or Coca-Cola’s iconic red.

Excuse me for a moment. I’m suddenly hungry for a burger and a refreshing soft drink to wash it down.

But the brand that’s reigned supreme at the top of Interbrand’s global rankings for the last 3 years and was ranked the #1 brand in 2015 — the brand that’s taken a piece of fruit and made it globally synonymous with a product — is Apple, the most successful brand in the world. There are very few people on the planet who would not recognize the Apple logo. But a piece of fruit with a bite taken out of it is not what has set up Apple to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company.

When presenting Apple’s vision statement, CEO Tim Cook emphasized Apple’s dedication to “constantly focusing on innovating” and “believing in the simple, not the complex.” These are aspects of the Apple brand.

Consumers favoring Apple products appreciate the fact that they are easy to use and will always be on the cutting edge of technology. As the technologies and services change, consumers can rely on Apple to make the transition smooth. Apple customers possess these beliefs because Apple has spent years embodying its brand in every sense.

This is why the Apple Music app created such a stir. The success of sites like Spotify pushed Apple to broaden its horizons and introduce a music streaming app of its own. To encourage people to use the new service, Apple offered the first three months of Apple Music for free. Controversy arose quickly when it was revealed that during this free three-month trial period, artists with media on Apple Music would not receive any royalties.

Numerous artists, including Taylor Swift, Radiohead, and Adele, refused to allow their works to be included in Apple Music’s library as a result. Taylor Swift went so far as to write an open letter to Apple in June 2015, explaining her stance on the matter.

“I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company,” stated the superstar. “Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”

Brands are perception. They’re how you want your customers to think and feel about your company. The controversy over Apple Music threatened to associate the brand with negative perceptions of greed and unfair practices. And with many popular artists refusing to sign with the app, Apple’s reputation of being convenient was also in jeopardy.

In response to the backlash, Apple apologized. They assured consumers that the three-month trial period would remain free to fans and artist royalties would be paid. This reinstated Apple’s position in the eyes of consumers and went far to repair its relationship with artists. Taylor Swift herself starred in an ad for Apple Music in April 2016.

No amount of matching color schemes will save a company that promotes stability in one commercial, then boasts about its spontaneity in another. When determining your brand, take a page from Steve Jobs and ask yourself, “What are we here to do?”

A clear, well-established brand identity lets your customers dive deeper into your brand’s values and vision. Before you get into the aesthetics, be sure to develop a branding strategy first. A well-designed logo won’t work if your brand lacks substance — this is a very common branding mistake among companies.

If you don’t know who you are or what you care about, your customers won’t, either. You can’t just slap a fancy color palette on a logo and call it a day. If only it were that easy! You have to determine what your brand’s purpose is and how your goals, decisions, and content reflect that to your audience.

Brands are a part of your company’s culture. Ideally, you would want something to build excitement and curiosity — something that will have customers rallying behind it. People’s expectations are pretty high, and having a great product, service, or website is simply not enough. But if you can wrap all these elements together to create a cohesive brand that customers find delightful, relatable, or memorable, you can position yourself ahead of the game.

To avoid branding mistakes, take a look at the bigger picture to ensure consistency between your vision and customer experience. It will provide many valuable insights on how to win over your customers!

At Newsletter Pro, we’re here to “Build relationships that matter. Personal. Professional. Powerful.” From our exchanges with our coworkers to the connections we have with each of our clients, we strive to create lasting, valuable, and powerful relationships that meet the needs of everyone involved.

#2. Inconsistent Branding

Let’s talk about Coca-Cola again. If you tried, could you accurately picture the Coke logo? Probably. It hasn’t changed much since 1887 — save for a brief period in 1890 lasting only one year. I’ll bet you can also spot that exact shade of red in a crowd. It’s a trademarked color, by the way: Pantone 484.

Coca-Cola is an example of the importance of brand consistency, and it doesn’t just stop at their Spencerian Script font. If you’re watching a commercial, it takes only a few seconds to recognize when it’s advertising Coca-Cola. Even before a single soda bottle comes on screen, Coke’s use of everyday scenes, recurring elements of red, and the focus on storytelling in their marketing campaigns makes every Coke commercial feel as familiar as their trademarked red.

But at one point, Coke almost sabotaged all its hard work in building this brand consistency. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s biggest rival, introduced the “Pepsi Challenge” in 1975 as part of its marketing strategy. Consumers would perform a blind taste test to see if they preferred Pepsi or Coke. Over the next decade, millions of customers revealed they preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Seeking to defend its position as the top beverage producer, Coca-Cola began developing a new formula to beat Pepsi in the game of taste. Their creation, which continues to haunt the pages of brand history, was christened New Coke. After over 20,000 taste tests — which produced results showing customers actually preferred the taste of New Coke over both Pepsi and the original formula — Coca-Cola canceled production of their original Coca-Cola and announced New Coke would take its place.

Public outrage followed in no short supply. People were devastated by the change and that they could no longer buy the original formula. It didn’t matter that New Coke was an objectively better product than its predecessor; sales were painfully low, and people wanted their favorite drink back.

In July 1985, less than three months after the initial release of New Coke, that’s what they got. Coca-Cola announced the return of the original formula under the banner “Classic Coke” and let New Coke fade away like a terrible nightmare.

With New Coke, Coca-Cola committed a mistake so egregious that, over 30 years later, it is still widely regarded as one of the worst branding mistakes ever. Most of this backlash came because, in a sense, Coke betrayed its customers.

When a customer recognizes a brand, they feel a sense of trust in that company. For Coca-Cola fans, this recognition came from Coke’s tradition of being “the real thing.” By bringing in something new, Coke jeopardized the entire consistency and recognition of its brand.

Having inconsistencies throughout your brand, social media posts, press releases, emails, etc. will create a misleading image of your company. Learning how to communicate consistently will allow your customers to feel like they’re talking to one person whenever they interact with the brand.

Recognizable brands are viewed as being dependable. Being consistent is the key to being recognizable. As Coke discovered, the actual quality of a product can sometimes take a back seat to consistency.

There are a lot of opportunities to succeed — or fail — at getting customers to recognize you — TV ads, radio spots, websites, print promotions, newsletters. If you viewed all your ads in a lineup, could customers tell they are from the same company?

We live in a world of immediate gratification, and jumping on the self-serving bandwagon can be tempting. Staying true to your brand and what it believes in is key! You can’t expect your customers to jump on the wagon with you — people thrive on consistency, and if you are inconsistent, how can they truly rely on you?

Unlike fashion, music, or other pop culture trends, syncing your brand to the sensitivities of time can be a significant branding mistake. Take the greenwashing movement, for example. Many companies decided to “go green” to keep up with the eco-friendly trend when in reality, these brands were simply hopping on the bandwagon of environmental issues. Some were even caught for “greenwashing.”

In 2020, Windex joined the movement and created a recyclable plastic bottle made of 100% ocean-bound plastic. That sounds like a great idea, right? Well, the “ocean-bound plastic” was claimed to be retrieved from the ocean, but it was actually collected from plastic banks in Haiti, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Windex also brands its products as nontoxic — a claim that was legally disputed in court. It faced a $1.3 million class action settlement because Windex contained ingredients that could be harmful to people, animals, and the environment.

Although using trends can be helpful in growing your brand’s presence, relying on them entirely may limit the strength of the brand’s identity. This may lead to branding that has no true purpose, and as a result, it can confuse your audience.

Their inconsistent branding and values led to a struggle for trust with their customers. So, even the smallest branding mistake of consistency can make for serious headaches down the road.

At Newsletter Pro, our pro designers spend an extensive amount of time studying the visual cues associated with a client’s brand. They make a note of color palettes, logo design, and other imagery in a client’s existing marketing. Then, they use these elements to bring a newsletter to life, blending seamlessly with a client’s brand.

#3. Breaking Your ‘Brand Contract’

By presenting your brand to customers, you are instilling a set of expectations. Products that claim to be user-friendly shouldn’t come with a 10-page user manual. Companies that insist they treat people like family don’t leave their customers on hold for 2 hours. Reliable appliances don’t break after their second use.

When a customer gets a newsletter from their family dentist, they should know what to expect every time: a cover article with a personal story from the dentist, an article inside about fun activities to do with the whole family, some client testimonials, a healthy recipe, and a few kid-friendly memes. Expectation promotes an important sense of dependability. This is your brand contract.

Staples is an excellent example of the lengths you should go to meet the expectations you’ve made for your customers. To keep up with competitors, Staples reinvented their brand in 2003, promoting the idea that buying office supplies with them was easy. But this rebranding didn’t stop with a new slogan — “That was easy.” — or a popular red button.

Shira Goodman, CMO of Staples, began visiting stores to determine how Staples could get ahead of the competition. She found that the bestselling, high-demand products were all being kept at the back of the store.

To be fair, this is standard operating procedure for retail stores, like when you run into the gas station to grab a drink while you’re filling up the tank. Why are the refrigerators in the back of the store? It increases the chance that you’ll grab a bag of chips or a candy bar, too.

This layout is not easy. Realizing it clashed with Staples’ new brand, Goodman proceeded to have more popular products moved to the front of the store. While this may have sacrificed some profit in add-on purchases, Staples successfully cemented itself as the “easy” office supply store. They embodied their brand and earned their customers’ loyalty as a result.

You have to guarantee that every element of a customer’s experience with your company lines up with your branding goals.

Making vague or insincere promises is a common branding mistake. Many companies publish content that sounds generic or makes empty promises. If you want to reach your target audience, you must craft personalized, truthful content that reflects your brand.

After developing a brand contract, many tend to make the mistake of ignoring their guidelines in certain situations. This results in making the brand less effective and recognizable. Using your brand’s contract ensures the company provides reliable guidance across all its platforms!

The brand contract envelops the entire customer experience. If some part of the experience doesn’t align with your brand’s claims, you are essentially breaking that contract. And any breach of contract can be very harmful to your relationship with customers.

After all, it’s all about brand perception — how your customers feel, think, and experience your brand. This is what prompts them to choose you or seek other solutions with a different company. When businesses make branding mistakes, it negatively affects perceptions of the brand and drives customers away.

The world never forgets branding mistakes, and many businesses have collected a lot of attention for them — and not the good kind. Many have been ridiculed, scorned, mocked, and worse. Though some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, numerous brands beg to differ.

Remember Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial? The company was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding, and they missed the mark during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pepsi had been swept into controversy when it depicted Kendall Jenner solving the tension between protestors and police with a can of soda. Many people criticized the commercial for its insensitive approach and improper execution of the desired message. It wasn’t long until the world began to condemn Pepsi — people expressed concern and disgust, claiming that it trivialized real-life events. The negative feedback resulted in 9 months of the lowest perception levels the company had seen in over 8 years.

Your brand is an important aspect of your company, and good branding allows it to go far and look great for current and potential customers. The common problem business owners make is either underestimating or neglecting their brand. If you have a great product or service but a poor brand, the road to success may be difficult to navigate.

Not all branding mistakes cost millions, but unfortunately, they all come with a price. Some can be avoidable, but you can take steps to stay ahead of the dangers. When it comes to your reputation, you don’t want branding mistakes to affect your overall image. As you can see, even the biggest businesses can trip up. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes — own up to them and move forward with a plan of action. Or, even better, learn from the mistakes of others.

If you want to learn more about how to make boost your branding efforts, check our Content Marketing Guide. You can download your free copy by filling out the form below.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryce

    Fantastic post, and very informative. I wonder why the other specialists in this sector don’t realize this. You must proceed with your writing. I’m confident that you have a huge reader base already!


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