From Miley to Lululemon, who won and who lost? The answer might surprise you.
It’s that time of year again, where I ask our 400+ brand zealots at Prophet to weigh in on the brand winners and losers for 2013. As usual, there was no shortage of opinions. But this year, there seemed to be more options to pick from than ever before in this informal survey.
It has been quite a brand-worthy year. From A-Rod’s temper tantrums to Toronto’s mayoral embarrassment; from William and Kate’s true global celebrity to Fiat’s complete reinvention; from Abercrombie’s “bullying” to the finality of Blockbuster; from Under Armour taking on of the big boys to Boston Strong becoming a true, national movement; from Hyundai’s quality problem to Snapchat’s Facebook rebuff; from Amazon’s continued domination to Breaking Bad’s monster year.
Bottom line, there were brands that inspired, influenced and compelled… and there were those that continued to disappoint. Think Samsung and Apple versus Sears/JC Penny’s/K-Mart, not to mention Lance Armstrong.
So while there were a lot of great brand stories to choose from, below are my picks for the three best and worst brand stories from 2013.
It seems way too easy to choose Nike for this list, but how can you not? With the launch of its recent version of its FuelBand SE and continued focus on creating a FuelBand community for the athlete and health conscious consumer inside all of us, Nike has started a revolution that connects consumers, communities, products, services and competition. It comes in the form of a smart-looking wrist band that continues to outsmart all of the new wrist toys that came out this past year. Last week, Nike hit a 52-week high. And with the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, their new Kobe Shoe launching this month and their Nike+ integrated platform and community ecosystem on fire, Nike is well positioned to continue to have another great brand (and economic) year in 2014.
You can call Miley Cyrus a lot of things after her bizarre 2013, but poor, uneventful and un-newsworthy aren’t some of them. In one of the most calculated exercises in Marketing 101, Cyrus schooled major brands by understanding that it is not just about becoming the dialog, but orchestrating it and the ecosystem that surrounds it. When you are able to do that well, two things happen: You crush the relevance meter and ring up massive album and concert ticket sales. Read any of her interviews, look at who is at number 13 on Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100 ranking of the most powerful celebrities and look who we are still talking about four months after twerking entered our lexicon at the VMAs. She is doing exactly what managing a strong brand requires: driving relevance, sales and longevity.
I continue to eat crow from my list of brands that would be gone by 2015, written three years ago, as I happily watch Netflix continue to transform itself from a data-driven, DVD rental machine to an almost indispensable part of many of our lives. From its low point pricing disaster two and a half years ago, to its aggressive international expansion, to the launch of high quality original programming, to its newly announced TV interface that will make it simpler for subscribers to find and browse content or make “smarter choices,” as Netflix VP of Product Innovation Chris Jaffe says, Netflix is poised to be on the upper part of this list for years to come.
There is nothing more humbling then traveling all over the world and trying to explain what is going on with the U.S. Government. From shutdowns to filibusters to technical blow-ups to the extremes pulling from both directions, it is no wonder that approval and trust issues are at record lows and that the big U.S. Government brand and all of the “other” brands associated with it need help and fast. The most surprising stat (or maybe not so surprising) is the fact that a new poll found that 63 percent of voters want to replace their own member of Congress, the highest percentage on the question since it was first asked in 1992.
JP Morgan Chase had a bad year, and deservingly so. The company was on the receiving end of record fines, stunning allegations, leadership denials and then admissions, a misguided Twitter stunt, all along with record profits. This might be our generation’s company and brand that is “too big to fail.” Unfortunately that same brand is amongst the most mistrusted in America. There is a lot of repair that needs to happen, but beginning to create greater distance between the consumer brand (Chase) and the institutional brand (JP Morgan) may not be a bad place to start.
Chipotle and Lululemon are brands that are held up to a higher standard than most and thus any miscue, large or small, garners disproportionate attention. Both of these brands deserved the attention they got in 2013 for losing just a bit of their authenticity and souls. For years, Chipotle stressed its vision of “food with integrity through serving its customers the best tasting and most healthful ingredients possible, sourced from farmers and ranchers whose practices show respect for animals and the environment.” So much for a vision. Earlier this year, Chipotle acknowledged the presence of GMOs in half of the restaurant’s ingredients, labeling them as such on the website’s menu but not on the in-store menu. Brand promise made, brand promise broken. To be clear, this has not impacted store sales, stock price or the fact that a price hike is coming in 2014.
Regarding Lululemon, its co-founder issued a formal apology last month (though it’s being called the “worst ever”) for remarks he made about how “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for his company’s yoga pants. This was on the heels of a recall earlier this year, tied to some of its popular black yoga pants being too sheer and tearing, in effect, blaming woman’s bodies for the issue. Whether or not women, who have successfully championed this brand for years, will continue to “buy into” the Lululemon Manifesto or not, is to be seen. Profits are down since the recall and executives have left — two signs that all is not well in Lululand.
So, what are your picks for this year’s brand winners and losers? Add your own choices – and why – in the comments section.