Sunday, 10 July 2011

“The News of the World” a toxic Brand? Jumping on the toxic ‘brandwagon’ and personal responsibility

Rather than perhaps manufacturing failure, an accounting fraud or a dip in sales, the thing that seems to keep some company bosses awake at night is reputational risk - the fear that the behaviour of even just one rogue employee in a large organisation will destroy the reputation of the whole business.
It will make the brand so toxic that even its most loyal customers, suppliers and workers will want nothing more to do with your brand, lest they too become tainted by association in the public mind.

That is what appeared to happen at the UK Sunday Newspaper “The News of the World” (NOTW) in its last week when first Ford, then Virgin Holidays, Mitsubishi, the Lloyds Banking Group and Vauxhall decided to pull their advertisements from Sunday 10th July paper.

These brands were protecting their own image or perhaps enhancing their image by being first in the queue with the publicity coverage.

The story was they did not want to be seen supporting a toxic brand, in case the public thinks that also means they approve of its actions - hacking into mobiles.

Well perhaps but as the aria in Gershwin’s Opera “Porgy and Bess” - “ it ain’t necessarily so “.
Enclosed with the main News of the World Sunday newspaper was its magazine called “Fabulous” with its banner claim – ‘Supplement of the year’.

Of course not all conventional advertisers completely disassociated themselves the Fabulous magazine displayed advertisements for example from :-
1. Olay – total effects moisturiser,
2. L’Oreal sublime hair mousse,
3. TESCO direct , supermarket
4. Tesco British Strawberries,
5. Boots (Chemist) ,
6. Ribena Blackcurrant Drink, Soft drink
7. Sleek Make up available from Superdrug, Cosmetics
8. Nivea body lotion, Cosmetic
9. Jenny Craig diet plans, Lifestyle
10. LG cinema TVs ,Consumer Electronics
11. Unilever’s Sure, Deodorants
12. O2, mobile communication
13. Virgin media
14. Vodafone
15. and Sky.
In the main paper there was a bonanza of advertising space taken up by those who presumably feel they are immune to the toxicity. These were the 28 or so Charities including one small charity for gay parenting who although they would normally not want to be associated with The News of the World (for their not particularly supportive line over the years on such matters) seized the chance to promote their small charity to the millions of readers some of whom are presumably their target audience of LGBT people

No doubt in the Business Schools and Universities there are case studies already being written up on how the 168 year old News of the World title failed.

All this has reminded me of an excellent presentation at Marketing live 2011 a couple of weeks back, given by the Global Innovation Director of Diageo Syl Saller.

Syl has a more onerous brand responsibility for her brands - not a paltry 168 years but nearer 400 years for example heritage brand Guinness. (One would not like to be the executive who blew out that brand)!
Syl’s talk was more Diageo ‘lite’ and Leadership heavy.

Her talk resonates with me now with the debacle of The News of the World.

Many at the paper and in Fleet Street ( the London community of journalists) have said “they (NOTW) have lost their way.” In essence that means a loss of leadership.

One of Syl’s points from her talk was that what we like to dress up as business risk is more often the fear of personal risk , personal reputation in reality.

In my little black book of quotes ( All trainers should have one) I came across this quotation I had scribbled down years before the days of personal computers!

Responsibility: by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover 1900-1986 US Nuclear Submarine Fleet Commander

Responsibility is a unique concept.

You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.

You may disclaim it but you cannot divest yourself of it.

Even if you do not recognise it or admit its presence you cannot escape it.

If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else.

Who will claim the responsibility for the toxicity of the News of the World? Tough question.

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