Destroying a Brand: How Stupid Can You Get?

Apr 28th 2008
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By Allan Boress, CPA - Veteran marketers know the value of a strong brand and how long, and how much time, effort, money and patience it can take to create.

Then why would a company purposely seek to destroy one of America’s best brands?

A good brand can predispose a prospect to check you out first, make a referral easier for a referral source, and ease the way for purchase at a higher cost or fee. A great brand creates a specific feeling in the buyer or referral source, removes fear of buying, makes people willing to pay more than they otherwise would, and creates an aura of trust. Great brands are promoted and earned over a very long period of time.

How much is the Lexus brand worth? Deloitte? KPMG?

Then why would anyone trash a 110 year-old brand with a national reputation for quality and care in an industry that lives on trust and opportunity?

I am often convinced that many good ideas in business get replaced by bad ones because of “NIH,” (Not Invented Here). A campaign is going great and the Director of Marketing or Vice President of Sales or CEO leaves for a better job. The moron replacement trashes what is working great because they didn’t come up with the idea.

How else would you explain one of the greatest branding and advertising campaigns in the history of business being thrown away and replaced by losers for over 30 years?

Here’s a test for people over 35; complete the following sentence: “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to … “

If you dissect this message, you will see power in every phrase. And then that feeling of empowerment, relief and happiness is associated with a fast food joint, so that the fact you definitely deserve a break (every moment of every day) will lead you to McDonalds! Which is open all day! It’s no surprise that McDonalds was by far the ultimate franchise operator in the world in 1978 (when that fab campaign was trashed) and struggled for over 25 years until it finally successfully reinvented itself. How many hundreds of millions of dollars in pure profit and percentage points in market share did trashing that campaign and harming their brand cost them?

Even GM admits they made a huge mistake in destroying their 100 year old brand, Oldsmobile. Of course, by the time the accountants who run GM got done trashing it by making it completely generic and indecipherable to their other cars, it wasn’t worth jack anyway. I remember when an Olds meant power, cutting edge, 442, Hurst transmissions, sexy styling and quality of construction.

Which brings us to today’s tragedy: the annihilation of the brand, AG Edwards.

Maybe you aren’t familiar with AG Edwards. I wasn’t when I lived in Chicago or Fort Lauderdale. Those are big cities, and perhaps AG Edwards was overpowered by such outfits like Merrill, Shearson, et. al. who advertised in mass. Or, they simply concentrated on smaller demographics, like St. Louis and small town America. Here in Lake County, Florida, the investment market is dominated by AG Edwards and Edward Jones, both of which concentrate on personalized service, feature long-term employees and actually care about their clients. Here and around the US, people trust AG Edwards for their advice, guidance and hand-holding. There was a wonderful article applauding these very facts in Investors Business Daily about 6 months ago.

Many clients that we get from AG Edwards are from other towns that immediately change over to their local office as they are assured of the same quality service they received back in Dekalb or wherever. That’s brand loyalty!

AG Edwards had been around 110 years when Wachovia made a play for them. When they dangled enough money in the face of the major shareholders and the board, AGE gave up and sold out. New name of the firm? Wachovia. Mr. Edwards is rolling over in his grave.

This makes great business sense, when you think about it doesn’t it? Let’s trade a well-respected name for the most generic of all financial service related companies, one that has even had recent bad p.r. WHAT MORONS THOUGHT THIS UP? Congratulations, you have managed to destroy tens of millions of dollars of goodwill. You deserve what you will get.

Don’t let this happen to your firm when they admit some new partner who wants his or her name on the door, or is merged with a less valued firm. Stand by your brand.

By Allan S. Boress, CPA, co-author of Mastering the Art of Marketing Professional Services, published by the AICPA and available on their website.


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