Top 10 Brand Disasters of 2011 (So Far)

The year is only half over, and already there have been enough brand disasters to fill an entire post. As usual, I've taken a broad view of what constitutes a "brand", and have focused on events that, in my view, are the kind of thing that people tend to remember.

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Disaster #10: "General Electric"
From the days of Jack Welch, General Electric has been touted as an iconic U.S. firm, representing what's best about American business practices. However, when it was revealed in March of 2011 that G.E. paid no U.S. taxes (despite U.S. revenues of $5.1 billion), many people concluded that G.E. was a freeloader, willing to take advantage of all the publicly-funded infrastructure, but unwilling to pay a red cent to keep everything up and running.

Disaster #9: "Transocean"
You'd think after helping to cause the Gulf Oil Spill (arguably the worst environmental disaster of all time) that the executives responsible would try to keep a low profile. Not those wild and crazy guys at rig operator Transocean. Not only did the firm hand out pay huge pay increases, but the company's owner referred to 2010 as the company's "best year." One wonders what a bad year would look like.

Disaster #8: "Abercrombie & Fitch"
There's nothing like catering to pedophiles to make a brand name stand out in the public eye. That's pretty much what happened when the Abercrombie Kid's site featured the "Ashley" a padded, push-up bikini bra targeted at pre-teen girls. To make matters worse, rather than withdrawing the product in shame, they merely relabeled it as a padded "striped triangle."

Disaster #7: "Warren Buffet"
Warren Buffet has basked for years in his role as America's most successful investor. However, that image was badly tarnished when one of his protoges was discovered to have indulged in what appeared to be some inside trading. While Buffet's own firm outed the guy, it was hard not to wonder whether this was an isolated event, or behavior that was partly responsible for the success of Buffet's funds.


Disaster #6: "Godaddy"
Elephants are amongst the most intelligent of all non-primates. However, that didn't stop Godaddy CEO Bob Parsons from going on a well-publicized elephant hunt. Although he gamely tried to position the hunt as a humanitarian act, it was pretty clear that Parsons was indulging the same overwrought machismo that's made Godaddy the go-to firm for TV ads featuring gratuitous T&A.


Disaster #5: "Donald Trump"
As a publicity stunt for his TV show, Trump's flirtation with running for president was arguably successful. However, his embrace of the absurd birther controversy and racist remarks about the nature of Obama's education, made Trump seem less like a business guru and more like an obnoxious idiot with too big a megaphone.

Disaster #4: "Lockheed Martin"
You'd think that a company with a reputation for technological wizardry would know something about system security. But you'd think wrong. Earlier this year, somebody managed to break into the company's systems, which contain data on some of the most dangerous weaponry on the planet. If that doesn't raise goosebumps, then you're not thinking clearly about the implications.


Disaster #3: "Mark Zuckerberg"
At the beginning of the year, most people thought of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an embodiment of the not-entirely-unattractive character featured the movie The Social Network. However, then it became know that, weirdly, he's become a big proponent of killing his own meat. Hey, it's one thing to be a young billionaire, but quite another to run around with a meat cleaver, just because you can.

Disaster #2: "Evangelical Christianity"
The evangelical movement in the U.S. took two huge hits already this year. First, Florida pastor Terry Jones gave voice to the movement's rampant anti-Muslim sentiment by publicly burning a Koran, predictably causing havoc. Then, one of the major figures in the Christian broadcasting community, Harold Camping, proved how silly it is to predict the imminent end of the world, a mainstay of evangelical belief.

Disaster #1: "Nuclear Power"
Until quite recently, nuclear power had almost rehabilitated itself into a "green" technology, one of the ways that the world might solve the problem of global warming. But after a natural disaster caused the collapse of reactors in Japan, nuclear power suddenly became too, well..., radioactive to be taken seriously any longer.

READERS: What other disasters should I have included? And which of the ones I've included shouldn't be on the list?

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