The world has been full of venerable brands doing something awful, taking a hit, and recovering. GM’s ignition switch and Mary Barra’s response. The J&J Tylenol scandal. Moons ago gas tanks blowing up in Ford Pintos. Recently, VW’s emissions scandal and Chipotle’s supply chain challenges poisoning patrons, have added to the annals of corporate branding Glamour Don’ts while Wells Fargo is in the midst of cleaning up its act. Not good. But, Samsung? My gosh, what have they done?
For the last month I’ve flown too many times to count. I’ve been on United Airlines, Virgin, Air France, Aegean, and Delta. I realized the extent of Samsung's brand damage in mid September, and since then, when on EVERY one of my flights, whether international or domestic, the de riguer onboard announcements added a new twist: Turn off your Samsung devices, here’s a bag for them, they catch fire, they are not allowed, and so on and so forth.
Now, it’s lucky for Samsung that most travelers are numb to those announcements. But think about it. There are on average 93,000 to 99,000 commercial flights each day. Lets say they hold an average of 100 people. That is how many people each day are hearing from persons of authority that the Samsung 7 is a death trap. Say what you want about lithium batteries. Say what you want about ‘they’ll recover.’ They probably will. But when the FAA’s of the planet join the act and remind your customers every single minute of every single day that your branded device is a wreck, it’s a travesty. This makes the nightly news talking about Chipotle look like child’s play.
And they not only failed with the recall, but their replacement product was no better. On top of it all, in China, they really added frosting to the cake after saying the version for that country was safe. Not so. You do not want to piss off a country the size of China, which rapidly got itself online by way of the smartphone. C’mon. And how about the poor family whose car burned to the ground when their charging phone caught fire or the passengers on the Southwest flight that had to evacuate? Luckily no lives lost. But, can you imagine photos of those little incidents whirling around the world on social media at lightening speed?
Samsung-- whoever is in product design, whoever picked out that battery, and whoever built it failed at testing. Whoever is doing your PR, whoever is involved - clean house. Do it fast, do it publicly. Tell us what you’re doing to make sure this incident never happens again. Please don’t launch the Samsung Galaxy 8 until you’re sure this mess is fixed. Because it doesn’t just call one of your product lines into question, it puts your entire smartphone operations at risk. There are too many bungled moments for this little chapter in branding havoc history to play out with a happy ending. Samsung will no doubt find it’s way into a Harvard Business Review Case study. Part of the lesson learned: no doubt that haste makes waste. In Samsung’s noble attempt to resolve the situation swiftly and be more transparent they ended up shooting themselves in the foot. They not only didn’t play well with the right regulators but they came up with a solution that turned out not to be right. It’s awful and it’s sad. And every CEO and brand manager from here to eternity is sighing that this time around it wasn’t them.
But it could happen. And it does every day in every moment, in this era of Glassdoor, Facebook, reddit, Google and now airplanes and the FAA. Word gets out. There are no secrets. We live in an open world. So have a plan, keep a plan, manage a failed plan and make sure you treat your brand, what it stands for, and what you do – your products, services, values, team - they are all brand - as alchemy. It is everything in this day and age and it’s essential to protect it like gold and at all costs.
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