When Brands Hurt

The Jian Ghomeshi matter is repugnant. While we wait for answers from the CBC and criminal investigations there is another question that should strike fear in those of us in a relationship with a brand; How well do you know your brand?

Ghomeshi’s contempt for his listeners and his ruthless manipulation of the Q brand has laid bare the inner workings of a brand relationship.  A frail purpose, a threadbare values system and self-centeredness makes for a painful association. Avoid the pain of deception by taking charge of the brand relationship. Draw the line by affirming your expectations of the brand; understand what your brand stands for and make clear what you will put up with in a brand relationship.

Ghomeshi and Q are the latest doing the perp walk for bad brands. Many have gone before including Penn State, Lance Armstrong, Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods and now it seems, Bill Cosby. All damaged relationships because of abuses of trust and the affections of those who believed in them.

Is it us? Do we expect too much from brands? Is it right to even expect brands to be our friends? Should we really hold things in such high esteem? The answer is yes, it is us. Yes, we expect too much and yes we can hold things in high esteem IF there is an affirmation of trust and affinity of values. This is the essential living trust and eternal responsibility that comes with being a brand.

Why Good Brands Break Bad

Good brands break bad when they fail to understand this essential trust. A consumer’s unspoken trust with a brand is that “it is not what the company says it is or wants its brand to be but who the consumer thinks the brand is and believes it to be in their hearts”. Brands take this trust and shape our perceptions and beliefs about it with actions consistent with a values system that is aligned to our own. This is the authenticity we consumers crave and brands seek. It is the currency of a relationship that some brands find difficult to fathom, leaving us feeling short-changed. 

Ghomeshi’s public shaming of brand trust and authenticity should put all brand relationships under the microscope. The show Q and its host Ghomeshi stood for arts, culture and entertainment. They were, for the most part, synonymous, this guy who used to front a hip Toronto band and a program that prided itself for being “of the moment”. We bought in. We had an affinity with the program and its host. Or so we thought. We now know Ghomeshi did not write the “personal” essays used to open the show. CBC staffers say he was often just reading the script. We know now that he was terribly abusive to staff.  Q the brand talked a culture of cool but was living a culture of fear.

Should we care? Is it not the responsibility of the brand owner to make known and deliver on its values system so we may make informed choices? Is it our responsibility to determine if a brand is authentic or simply reading from a script or a brand playbook?

The answer is again, yes, we should care and it is our responsibility. Any relationship with a brand is on our terms. Brands clamour for our attention and jostle for our affections. Brands assume we have done our homework when we enter a relationship and consumers assume the brand is everything we perceive it to be. It is these faulty assumptions that potentially lead to a painful realization.

Stop the Pain of Bad Brand Relationships

So, let’s stop with the assumptions. If we and the brand truly want a relationship, let’s work at it. But, the work begins with us. Reaffirm what you believe in and recommit to core values and principles to which you hold firm and to which you hold your brand accountable. Make this known to your favourite brand. Our wallets become powerful pulpits.

If we want dignity and respect, ask for it. Brands will listen. Brands with vibrant value systems that live their brand purpose will welcome our reaffirmation process. Brands that have become a little fuzzy on the questions of values and purpose will see consumer reaffirmation as a wake-up call. For brands such as Ghomeshi and others who choose to abuse our beliefs, trust and principles, reaffirmation will be a nightmare.

Brands are a reflection of our values and beliefs. The brands we choose say something about us. Now is the time to say something about the behaviour we expect from brands. Any relationship is hard work and there is no guarantee you won`t get hurt. While a reaffirmation process is not the complete answer to our complex dealings with brands it is a good place from which we can draw the line to more trusting, rewarding relationships.


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