The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

Not buying this
Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc
Robert Passikoff
We usually wait until year-end to take a look back at our blogs and see how they mirrored in-market realities. Happily, for our clients, their prescience is consistently proven out. But today we can’t help but bring up our posting from this January on the recalls of J&J brands in the OTC Allergy and Pain Relief categories, where we predicted an avalanche of a fall for the brand from its 2010 first place ranking. Indeed, when we surveyed consumers in these categories for this year’s Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, J&J’s own customers took the brand from first place to last, not feeling the love for a brand that delivered contamination instead of a cure.

We are revisiting this fall from grace in light of the release of Buyology’s first annual report of the Most Desired Brands in the U.S. The press reported on 2 February that Buyology’s report was the result of an $8 million investment, with Gary Singer, Founding Partner and CEO, quoted as saying that “brands with strong relationships are going to prosper.” Apparently, their methodology can be used to assess the impact of a brands current marketing activities, and determine which activities will be more effective to connect with customers in the future.

Sounds good. We too feel it is critical for a brand to have a strong relationship with consumers if they are going to flourish—and, in fact, we are in the business of giving brands guidance on just how to make that happen. You can imagine our surprise then when we read that the most desired brand in the world for women is J&J, according to Buyology’s neuromarketing-based approach.

One might be able to explain such a ridiculous finding if J&J’s troubles took place before Buyology’s research was conducted. However, according to CNN’s reporting this January, J&J has been dogged for over a year by a series of product recalls and critical oversight actions by the Food and Drug Administration and federal lawmakers. J&J’s customers were willing to extend some forgiveness to the brand initially—that’s how loyalty works, buying a brand not only customers, but customers that give the brand the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations. But when a brand that once acted with class in the face of its product being poisoned lowers its standards for manufacturing, class turns to class action suits; no amount of advertising spend can assuage that brand betrayal. Especially among women, whose children were put at risk and paying more for J&J than buying a generic out of a trust the brand would care for their babies as its own.

While we make it a policy to keep our opinions about specific methodologies to ourselves, we are making an exception in this case. As an active member of industry organizations that are seriously examining how neuroscience might contribute something beyond highly-subjective brain maps to marketers struggling to help their brands thrive in a ceaselessly evolving world, we have some sensitivity to results so flagrantly disconnected from marketplace realities.

Not only is it impossible to imagine that female consumers most desire a relationship with J&J above any brand in the world, but other rankings from this study similarly lack simple face validity—our own contrary, and validated, rankings aside. Even if one disconnects this research from accountability with sales—though why anyone would do that escapes us—to claim that the rabid loyalty that characterizes Apple is not as strong as that of Microsoft is, in a word, unbelievable. Not to mention is the claim that women find National Geographic more desirable than they do Target, and men desire Crest more than BMW.

For those who read our blogs on a regular basis, you know we have a fondness for bringing wit to the discussions of brands and measurement. But we find it difficult to find the humor in this, and hope that Buyology’s next annual attempt will inject accountability into its methodology, before brands that so nakedly abuse their customers’ trust are given laurels they don’t deserve.

Subjects: Consumers, Brands, Advertising

02 March 2011 15:00

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