Why Bad Brands Are Scary

Why Bad Brands Are Scary

Illustration of woman grabbing at her head and screaming as a bat flies toward her.

Frankenstein, The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man are classic horror films that are sure to fright. But for brand strategists, nothing makes us shriek quite like… bad brands!

Ask us to write a horror film and we’d call it Brandula, a dark story about a brand that feeds off the life essence of customers. Its only weaknesses are the Fourth Edition of Designing Brand Identity and PMS chips…


But why are some brands “bad,” and what’s the big deal if they are? Read on—if you dare…

What is a Bad Brand?

A “bad brand” is a brand that, for one reason or another, doesn’t resonate with audiences. The values may be weak or lacking, and the messaging may be all over the place. The design may be unappealing and not “make sense.”

Good brands get their audiences to be passionate about it. Great brands can get individuals to become brand ambassadors (check out The Skimm’s Skimm’bassadors). People want to associate with these brands because of their values and/or mission. Sometimes, brand association can transfer (or seem to transfer) qualities onto its audience, such as intellect (TED Talks) or wealth (Gucci).

Graph detailing the differences between "good" and "bad" brands.

The Making of a Bad Brand

There are many ways a brand can be “bad.” Some have terrible design and are doomed from the start. Others may have weakened over time and affected prosperity.

Here are three ways a brand can turn into a living nightmare:

The Brand is Sullied

Brands can become “bad” over time for various reasons. The name could link to something unfavorable, or poor business decisions could turn people away from it. Here’s a list of some of the possibilities:

A Sign of the Times: Libeert is a Belgian chocolate company, but in 2013 they were known as Isis Chocolates. A year later the terror group, known by its acronym ISIS, began publishing its hateful propaganda. Stores did not want any association and refused to stock the chocolate.

An Environmental Disaster: The Deepwater Horizon spill (AKA BP oil spill) in 2010 holds the unfortunate title of being the largest marine oil spill in history. Refusing to take blame for what happened, poorly handling press and media appearances/mentions and downplaying the actual damage that occurred caused BP to get serious flak across the nation. Over the years, they have worked to reverse this negative image.

The Truth Coming Out: The 2013 documentary Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, an Orca whale housed at SeaWorld Orlando (he passed on January 6, 2017). SeaWorld received negative backlash from the press and animal lovers alike. Their stock also went down by 33 percent in the year following the documentary’s release. As of early 2017, SeaWorld announced measures to re-brand as an animal conservation.

The Brand Has Bad Design

Bad design dooms brands from the start. Some even attempt a re-brand that turns out to be a lot worse than the original. Towards the end of year, you’ll find a handful of list articles written by branding and design companies that detail the best and worst branding for the year.

In 2016, Co.Design called Uber’s new in-house designed logo “soullessly corporate and overworked.” Others used language that wasn’t as nice. In 2014, Co.Design didn’t mince words about the new Pizza Hut re-brand, calling it “the equivalent of a middle-aged guy buying a bright red sports car in the quest to rekindle his glory days.”

CareerBuilder's new logo, 2015.
CareerBuilder’s new logo, launched as part of their rebrand in 2015.

Coming in at the top of Creative Market’s 2015 list was CareerBuilder. One commenter said it looked like it was from the 80s. A poll on Brand New helped quantify the distaste for this logo: A whopping 93 percent of people said the icon was “bad.” The wordmark received 89 percent votes for “bad.”

Back in 2012, Business Insider included Tropicana’s “streamlined” look as a horrible re-branding attempt. After comments that the new looked appeared generic—and a 20 percent sales drop—the old look was returned.

The Brand Isn’t Consistent

If an article has a bunch of typos with run-on sentences, lack of headers and awful grammar, you’re not likely to trust the information it presents. You may even avoid that website entirely. Now imagine that this website offered to write content on your behalf—for a fee. Would you pass or pay?

You would pass, because accepting their offer would do more harm than good.

Having an inconsistent brand is a similar situation. If your identity, messaging and visual elements are chaotic and disorganized, prospective customers won’t want to do business with you. They assume that you will complete your products and services in the same way. Because if you cannot even handle managing your own company, how can you help someone else manage an aspect of theirs? An inconsistent brand is a giant red flag that says, “Don’t work with us.”

Why is a Bad Brand “Scary”?

Your brand is part of your company’s face. Don’t make it scare people. If not…

It Can Alienate Customers…

In the cases mentioned above, customers didn’t want any association with those brands. They voted with their money and refused to patronize the companies.

You want your brand to be inviting for all members of your audience. Have them get on board with your brand by showcasing your company’s values through messaging and action. Think about how your brand identity will impact their decision-making. Create brand standards to keep anyone who creates messaging and materials for the brand within the same guidelines.

…and Make You Uncompetitive…

A bad brand can render your business uncompetitive. Potential customers seek alternatives once they’ve determined you produce terrible work (even if the opposite is true). And your competitors can and will use this to their advantage. Even if your work is better than theirs, your brand tells the world otherwise.

…Both of Which Could Mean Loss of Business

Alienating potential customers and having competitors pouncing on your weaknesses can result in a financial fiasco. Even Don Juan can’t sway customers do to business with a company that has a poor identity. There are competitors that are organized and offer the same services—why take the risk?

In marketing—like in life—putting one’s best face forward is key. Your brand is your company’s face. Your logo should resonate like an old friend and bring positive brand associations. Colors should be identifiable down to the hue; after all, you can’t have Tiffany without Tiffany Blue. And your messaging should be the same wherever your customers may interact with your company.

Does your brand sound like it’s about to become one of the living dead? It’s not too late to save it. Call us today at 312.828.0200 or send us an email at hello@paragraphs.com. We can set up a meeting to discuss more—and you can leave your garlic at the office.

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