The problem at the heart of branding is that, like Bart Simpson, brands often can't tell the difference between positive attention and negative attention. Sure, it might be great that everyone is talking about your brand, but what if everyone is talking about how much the brand sucks?
For an example of this, look to John Oliver and his hilarious, desperate efforts to get alleged human garbage pile Sepp Blatter to resign as president of FIFA, the body that governs international soccer and runs the World Cup. The recent corruption scandal and arrests of high-ranking FIFA officials made international headlines. John Oliver, on his show Last Week Tonight, appealed to the sponsors of the cup to pull their support if Sepp Blatter did not resign. He even promised to wear Adidas shoes, eat McDonald's food, and drink an entire bottle of Bud Light Lime.
And then a miracle happened:
Ad Age notes that Oliver's attention to World Cup sponsors as a means of activism lead to a huge jump in 'awareness' of the involved brands, especially Bud Light Lime. In the article, Felicia Greiff states that "Bud Light Lime digital consumption increased 6,333% between May 31 and June 2." Which seems like it would be a good thing to a brand manager, but let's check out the actual context of the promise John Oliver made (relevant bit starts at 11:45):
Adidas shoes are "ugly." McDonald's Dollar Menu "tastes like normal food that was cursed by a vindictive wizard." Drinking a Bud Light Lime is the "ultimate sacrifice" because it taste like "a puddle underneath a Long John Silver's dumpster." Do brand managers understand that he's mentioning these products in a negative light? Because they are widely regarded to be hideous? Is this really any way for a brand to build excitement?
The goals of branding have always seemed willfully ignorant of context. As an enterprise, it is acutely aware of when people are talking about a product, but not how people are talking about it. In the Ad Age article, Greiff is even aware of the how this spike in brand attention came about, stating that "even though Mr. Oliver didn't speak highly of [Bud Light Lime], saying it tasted like a lime jolly rancher fished from the mouth of Mickey Rourke, his televised swigging did wonders for the brand's impressions this week." How this disconnect can occur is a problem that branding seems unable to face.
Greiff even concludes her article by saying that "Sepp Blatter's very bad week was a great one for Bud Light Lime, McDonald's and Adidas." I would ask, can't it be a bad week for all of them?