Brands are pre-made decisions.
They are "packages" of many smaller choices that other people and organizations have made for us, hoping we will agree and choose their brand as ours'.
Brands are everywhere: political parties, companies, ethnic groups, movie stars, neighborhoods, and even entire countries. All can be viewed as packages of pre-made decisions. We seal our brand choices with money, votes, and sometimes, our lives.
When we accept the pre-made decisions represented by brands, we must also accept the possibility that some elements that go into making a brand may be manipulated, deceitful, or more dangerous than we perceive. Some recent examples involving product brands:
- Tylenol’s terrorist painkiller capsule poisoning incident in the early 1980s
- Coca-Cola's 1999 European contamination scare and recall of 17m cases
- Merck's Vioxx, the arthritis drug which has been linked to heart attacks.
What happens when our decision goes bad because we accepted a brand? Why do brands fail in the first place? Failures are not acts of God. They are much more mundane: they may result from flawed design or quality control, cut corners, or human error. The hype may have exceeded the brand's ability to deliver. Bill Clinton lied and lost. Merck and our doctors did not fully communicate the risks of Vioxx and withdrew the drug.
Paradoxically, large companies see their response to brand failure as a "chance to demonstrate a company’s regard for its customers."
If we are going to continue to use brands to make our own decisions, we are going to have to begin to understand what is in the package that we so readily, and often thoughtlessly, accept.
Related story in the Financial Times, Dell can turn product failure into an opportunity. (Subscription req'd);