Does your brand suck? This is not a question that is often raised in marketing or board meetings. However, a quick search on Google may reveal what some of your consumers really think and feel about your brand. Anti-brand websites such as dellhell.net, ihatestarbucks.com, bloodyburberry.com and ihateryanair.org and social media communities have become a ubiquitous channel for consumers to let off steam and make their views and opinions public.
Talking to brand managers, many share the view that anti-brand sentiment is generally fuelled by activists who do not fall into the brand’s core target group. In other words, they don’t really matter. Environmentalists target energy companies, anti-capitalists are at war against financial institutions and anti-globalists have the McDonald’s’ of the corporate world in their sights. This view, however, may be misleading. A study of over 450 French consumers found that 93% of respondents had absolutely no hesitation in identifying a brand they ‘absolutely hated’ (Bryson, Atwal and Dreissig 2010). These were not so-called “extremists” but regular consumers. In reality, Brand Hate™ is not an extreme, but a mainstream phenomenon. The implications are significant. If the regular customer hates your brand, what could this mean for the bottom line? The regular consumer may not react with company boycotts and anti-brand protests, but will simply opt not to purchase your brand. This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Negative opinions and experiences are likely to be shared with friends, co-workers and family that could lead to an anti-brand domino effect.
Different consumers hate brands for different reasons. However, if brand managers can identify the key influences of Brand Hate™, they will have a better chance of avoiding the fall-out of disengaging with existing and future customers. The following predictors of Brand Hate™ offer practitioners a practical guide to identify what drives extreme negative brand sentiment.
1. The first predictor of Brand Hate™ is customer dissatisfaction. This is not just about the actual product performance, but the holistic brand experience. Yes, we often know that feeling when talking to a call center operator or been given the cold shoulder in a high-end boutique.
2. Second, negative brand stereotypes. A negative reference group perception that also includes brand celebrity ambassadors can evoke extreme negative brand sentiment.
3. Next is brand irresponsibility. Consumers don’t expect companies to be perfect, but they expect them to be sensitive and take a responsible position in terms of environmental, social and welfare issues.
4. Finally, negative word of mouth. Consumers like to talk about their brand experiences and listen to the opinions of their peers. The Internet has become a powerful vehicle to channel brand dissent.
Brands will be loved and hated. And both sentiments have to be kept in mind when taking important marketing or development decisions. The decision for Christian Dior to dismiss the fashion designer John Galliano over allegations of anti-Semitic highlighted the need for luxury companies to demonstrate brand reputation. This also implies that the role of the brand is not only to guide consumers symbolically, but also to connect or align the values of the consumer with those of the brand.
The take-out is that brand managers need to build a strong reputation in order to minimize the immediate and long-term consequences of Brand Hate™. Although many brands set out to polarize, your brand does not need to suck. Au contraire.