Nasty brands. Name them for me.
February 1, 2013 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing an international presentation about rebranding, and I need to educate the audience about how logos are not the brand, but just a representation of how the public views them. I want to do a little exercise showing a bunch of brands with negative associations and ask them to think about how they feel about them. The first logo I've thought of is the swastika, but I don't want to Godwin myself.

My audience is international (every continent, maybe not quite every country). Could you please list well known logos of disliked brands that are either global, or recognisable in your region (and name your region).

For example, I might say: in Australia, Jetstar the airline is regarded as a last resort airline because of poor pilot skills, refusal to refund, unnecessary wait times at airport.
I might also say: in Australia, Kraft took over Vegemite, a much loved Aussie-owned product, previously considered a national icon.

I haven't been strictly accurate in my first paragraph. Don't worry - I've got it covered in my 75 page report, and it's Saturday morning here.
posted by b33j to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
They must have recognisable logos. Thanks.
posted by b33j at 5:00 PM on February 1, 2013

Google is your friend
posted by nickrussell at 5:07 PM on February 1, 2013

In Asia the swastika is not the same irreprehensible sign that we know it, it stands for Buddha's heart.

the original Starbucks logo,
posted by kanemano at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2013

The first thing to pop into my head (since the family is in the other room watching Star Wars) is the AT&T Death Star.
posted by jferg at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2013

U.S. perspective here...
Microsoft Explorer
Bank of America
posted by carmicha at 5:09 PM on February 1, 2013

Hey, thanks for the suggestion to Google. I did and wasn't finding what I wanted.
With your company name, please include your region and why it's not a popular brand please.
posted by b33j at 5:11 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

UK: Skoda cars (millions of jokes about how shit they are), Rola Cola (gross, gross copy of Coke sold in Wales and the north), B&H cigarettes (cheapest, filthiest cigarettes) Iceland supermarket (everything £1, tainted by Kerry Katona, boxloads of creatively disgusting 'hors deurves'), Londis (soulless and shittily stocked corner shop replacing nearly all family-run corner shops), Elizabeth Duke (cut price jewllery from the Argos catalogue - wedding rings £7).

There must be so many more - and we do love mentioning all the shitty things about our country - in an affectionate way, mind you. That's what I've got right now off the top of my head.
posted by everydayanewday at 5:19 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in the U.S . Here are the first things that came to mind. Note that these the associations I and others I know have with these brands and these are therefore necessarily opinions and not facts.

- Republican party: racist, sexist, virulently misogynist, rape-denying, homophobic, anti-science, anti-education, anti-poor people, pro-war, pro-mass-murder zealots.

- Nestle: known for aggressively promoting infant formula with free samples in poor countries, leading to health problems and death for babies when new moms give their newborns formula, stop lactating, and then can't afford more formula or have to make formula with contaminated water. I don't know how widespread this negative image is but I associate the Nestle logo with evil.

- Monsanto: evil policies around genetically modified crops, such as suing farmers whose crops become accidentally contaminated with patented GM genes.

- Comcast: basically considered the poster child of horrible customer service.

- McDonald's: promoters of cheap non-nutritious foods that cause health problems.

- Exxon Mobil: ridiculously bad response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, global warming deniers.
posted by medusa at 5:23 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

US here...
Phillip Morris (aka Altria group)
Koch Industries

Self explanatory. Look up any of them.
posted by mike_bling at 5:25 PM on February 1, 2013

US - Blackwater > Xe Services > Academi. All the same company, but terrible press made them change their name, and their logos, significantly.

Seconding Enron, it's logo is more well know, and widely hated, and most people can't even explain what happened at Enron.
posted by Garm at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tesco (aggressive monopolization, undercutting), Ryanair, Easyjet (both for being budget airlines which make their money on baggage fees, etc), Barclays and probably most banks (financial crisis), Nestlé (baby milk scandal), Gap (sweatshops and child labour)

In many of these cases the reasons are common with a lot of different companies (e.g. sweatshops, supermarket practices generally) but that one company happens to have attracted the media publicity.

There's another category of hated brands based on class. You can hate 'posh' (Waitrose, John Lewis) or 'chavvy' (Lidl, Aldi, Netto, Kwik-Save, Iceland - budget supermarkets - McDonalds, KFC, The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Mirror, Argos, TK Maxx, QVC, Sunny Delight).

I also googled for most hated brands - a lot of them get slack for awful/annoying ad campaigns (AOL, Fererro Rocher), or for being a rival to a favoured product (Motorola, Bebo, MySpace) or team (Manchester United, Chelsea FC). And Cadbury Creme Eggs are in there because: ew. You're right, these lists are less helpful because the brand-association is more nebulous, covers a lot of different reasons and often more personal - someone will probably hate Christian Aid because they've been charity-bucketed aggressively or is sick of their ads falling out of magazines. Someone will hate Ikea because they keep getting lost in there. These are still shared experiences, but not about social impact.

I'm going to make a cup of tea now; I'm not used to passing on all this negativity! I generally discard most of these attached cultural values so it's been odd to dredge them up from more irked times.
posted by lokta at 5:33 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

British Tobacco - self explantory.

A really, really great example for this kind of thing is KFC.

1. First, they eliminated "Fried" from their name, and a lot of younger people wouldn't even know that's what it stands for.

2. They dramtically reduced the prominence of the colonel (remember the portrait in all the restaurants? Gone. Here in Aus at least), and drastically changed how he appeared when he was displayed.

3. Their latest mktg campaign of "the goodification project'. It's a very slick, very smart attempt to associate their food with the word good (so good, etc). Because they understand that good is not just a synonym for tasty, but for virtuous, right, to-be-emulated, to-associate-with, and most importantly healthy (good for you) - something that their products could obviously never, ever be associated with in a blatant fashion. Especially in light of the lawsuit here in NSW and their lobbying efforts fighting restrictions on palm oil, etc.

By all accounts, a great success, too.

KFC is like my go to when I talk about branding.
posted by smoke at 5:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

in the US, Best Buy has a good combination of bad reputation (mostly for their aggressive upselling tactics, which are often aimed at unsophisticated customers and used to sell a number of goods and low-quality services that they provide at inflated costs, such as warranties, technical support, and cables) and a very well-known, recognizable logo.
posted by phoenixy at 5:39 PM on February 1, 2013

Would clothing brands count?

US: tapout
US: no fear

posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:46 PM on February 1, 2013

Surely American Apparel gets a mention?

I'm Australian but their shittiness is legend.
posted by taff at 5:46 PM on February 1, 2013

Oh I remembered more! White Lightning Cider (£1 for 3 litres, one step up from drinking meths), and Lambruso/Lambrini ('wine' for £1 a bottle, you only drink it to get plastered). N.b. It's not like I'm saying I'm too good for either of these things. Younger me drank both and I regret nothing! Seconding Ryanair, and if you google the CEO you'll find he is an awful, abrasive prick, which got his brand a lot of attention (maybe only with Guardian readers though). Again: I have sat in that cramped flying henhouse for the sake of a £1 flight.

Sunny Delight tried a rebrand a few years ago actually (I was working in the company responsible), which flopped. It was too soon after the 'turned a ten year old bright orange' embarrassment of the mid 90s. We hadn't forgotten. That they were trying to pass it off as a health drink didn't help.
posted by everydayanewday at 5:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hooters, Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks, and other breastaurants are pretty hated in a lot of circles.
posted by cakebatter at 5:53 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Brand Tags website (requires facebook login) seems perfect for this. (found via the telegraph via googling "least popular brands").
posted by jacalata at 5:56 PM on February 1, 2013

Not to threadsit, but I think companies that are suited to their market (like breastaurants) aren't really what I'm looking for. It's the companies who's brands are tainted by their unethical behaviour.

If you do list a brand, please give me the reason why you have a negative view of it. I will still look it up to see if it fits, but your opinion will help me decide if it's worthwhile researching.
posted by b33j at 5:58 PM on February 1, 2013

Oh, oh! Little Chef, a chain of restaurants that only have franchises on the sides of motorways, was a budget eaterie known for low quality, not-even-warmed-through-in-the-microwave-properly awfulness. Then! There was a huge renovation/rebranding televised on the BBC/Channel 4 (I forget) which employed innovative haute-cuisine science-gastro (seriously youtube him, he's amazing) Heston Blumenthaal of Fat Duck and Heston's Fabulous Feasts fame. The series was amazing, the CEO an arse (the episode where he tells Heston his food is sticking to the roof of his mouth, I nearly died!), and you get to see the processes behind the menu rethink, the staff training (bitter and grudging), and the layout of the restaurant. I'd recommend that even if it wasn't for a project.
posted by everydayanewday at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Oh and for the Heston/Little Chef series they do talk about sales differences before and after rebranding/renovation).
posted by everydayanewday at 6:02 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wal-Mart, of course, at least in much of the US. They're known to treat their workers very poorly and drive down prices so much that they put smaller local companies out of business, and many people feel they've significantly disrupted the global economy as well. They're also associated with a lower class, which I'm sure helps color the perception of the brand.

Also in the US, cable TV companies, telcos, and airlines are among the most-hated, with overcharging, unreliable service, difficult-to-comprehend and ever-changing fee structures, and poor customer service being the reasons often cited. I think the fact that they have all these issues while providing a service most people consider essential, and in some areas have a near monopoly because you don't have the option to switch to another provider magnifies the animosity so that it's much more intense than, say, the animosity one might have toward a grocery store or bookshop.

Unfortunately which of the companies within each category is most hated is going to be a personal thing based on someone's experience--for example, most of my friends hate T-Mobile because they've had issues with them, but I've never had anything but reliable and consistent service from them, so I don't automatically associate negative feelings with them. But you will find some universals: Comcast, for instance, actually won Most Hated Company in a Consumerist reader's poll. And I must be the only person on the planet who doesn't hate United Airlines, and even I immediately think of "breaks guitars" and "loses unaccompanied minor children" when I think of them.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2013

Two more:

Vodafone because they have universally acknowledged horrendous coverage. (Metafilter's own Charlemange in Sweatpants' brother started Vodafail.)

Lynx men's deodorant for its vile sexism in advertising.
posted by taff at 7:06 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the U.S., there are a number of fortified wines and malt liquors that serve only as a harsh vehicle for cheap alcohol. Thunderbird, Night Train, St Ides, 8-Ball, Colt 45 and so on all have a reputation as the beverage of necessity for teenagers, poor people, and low-bottom alcoholics.

Air Canada has not changed its attitude since it was the only airline in the country, and didn't have to care about labour relations, reasonable fares, on-time reliability, or efficient baggage handling.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:07 PM on February 1, 2013

Oh, man, Comcast and United! Yeah, those are winners (at being awful). They're hated for bad customer service, not really for 'unethical behavior', except insofar as 'being a dick to your customers' is kind of unethical.

As far as unethical behavior, the biggest ones are the ones people don't really have a lot of direct contact with. Like, people hate Monsanto for unethical agricultural practices, but I don't have any idea what the Monsanto logo is and they operate through a bunch of smaller front companies and brands precisely because their name is used as a synonym for 'horrible unethical factory style agriculture'.

A couple other big companies that have been doing brand rehabilitation projects recently are Wal-mart trying to look like they care about local communities, and Microsoft trying to look cool instead of un-user-friendly and monopolistic.
posted by Lady Li at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2013

Oh! And Wal-mart is also hated for being strongly anti-union.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2013

National rivalries/historical grudges may be fruitful. Most of Asia would find the rising sun icon problematic, but I've seen it used without comment by t-shirt designers in the U.S. Any time the U.S. gets caught up in something sordid (or seen as a symbol of the worst forms of globalization), various American brands like Starbucks and McDonalds will suffer overseas.

Which reminds me how much brand perception can shift over time and space. I mean there are universally despised car makers (Yugo), but Japanese brands like Toyota and Honda used to be considered inferior product in the U.S. The Nike swoosh is super recognizable, but got tainted in the era of sweatshop revelations. Apple is pretty beloved, but the FoxConn stuff turned a lot of people off.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:20 PM on February 1, 2013

ValueJet Airlines had a very positive brand reputation until the crash of Flight 592 in 1996. The brand was so tarnished that they merged with AirWays Corporation and changed their name to AirTran.

For those who remember the crash, and especially the safety rules that were ignored by the company that led to the crash, the ValueJet logo has a strong negative association.
posted by 1367 at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

UK, the discount store Poundstretcher was madeover to look less cheap and rebranded as instore, although according to wikipedia the rebranding wasn't seen as succesful and new stores are named Poundstretcher again. Although as with Hooters-type restaurants the target user doesn't necessarily find the brand off-putting but management evidently did so for a while. have put out a series of highly annoying tv adverts over the past couple of years - the campaign is now using some kind of reverse advertising strategy where the former protagonist, an overblown tenor, is attacked and demolished by various celebrities.
"The advertisements feature Gio singing the 'Go Compare' tune in different places and situations, such as a coffee shop, a finishing school, a beach, and various fantasy scenarios such as in Georgian times, in the Stone Age and also in a cartoon featuring the Big Bad Wolf, rescuing the Three Little Pigs. The song in the adverts is based on the George M. Cohan classic Over There and was voted as the most irritating advertisement of both 2009 and 2010.

In July 2012 a new advert saw an assassin (later revealed to be the television presenter Sue Barker) attempt to kill Gio using a comedic style rocket launcher, but without success. In August 2012, a similar advert involved Stuart Pearce kicking a football into Gio's stomach, winding him and causing him to fall over. In October 2012, a third advert saw Gio being caught in an animal net-trap that had been set by the survival expert Ray Mears... Another advert features Stephen Hawking claiming he has solved the equation of black holes. The next shot shows Gio singing to a couple who back away followed by the appearance of a black hole which sucks him up."
So there you have an ad campaign making use of exactly the perceived unpopularity of its own brand to turn the brand round.
posted by glasseyes at 7:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consumerist does an annual reader poll for the Worst Company in America. Here's the bracket for 2012. The posts from round one have a decent round up of why the companies may have been chosen. They're all linked in the bracket post, but their internal link shortener appears to be down at the moment. You can find them all on the wcia2012 tag page, though.
posted by yuwtze at 7:58 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Huh. I'm Australian, but I don't think I'd have a strongly negative reaction to Kraft or Jetstar. Maybe that Vegemite 2.0 specifically and Tiger Airways.
posted by retrograde at 8:11 PM on February 1, 2013

Halliburton and its subsidiaries has its hands in all kinds of nasty, from the Iraq War to the BP oil spill. Also, their former chairman and CEO shot his best friend in the face.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2013

An interesting case study could be the United Fruit Company and its attempt to improve its -- deservedly horrible -- reputation over the years.

Sadly, I think it worked, as most people are quite oblivious of the story behind Chiquita Bananas.
posted by Fastest Pokemon at 8:40 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

No scandal/PR nightmares...but the product name seems problematic.
posted by timsteil at 8:59 PM on February 1, 2013

I'm in the US.

GoDaddy made a lot of customers mad by supporting SOPA legislation. Also, the CEO hunts elephants.

Hobby Lobby, a craft store, won't obey legislation to cover birth control for its employees because it's apparently a religious organization.

Chick-fil-a donates to block gay rights. Though I also hate any restaurant that doesn't serve a vegetarian option. Burger King serves a veggie burger yay, McDonald's boo. Which speaking of...

McDonald's likes to cook typically vegetarian products like fries in lard. This was especially a big deal in India.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:25 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

timsteil: Butt Paste has a very good reputation among parents of children young enough to need it, actually.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:58 PM on February 1, 2013

Oh yeah, "Gloria Jean's" are Hillsong people and donate to pro-life folk etc etc.

And "Max Brenner" is very very pro Israel/anti Palestine and donates accordingly.

Both of these businesses are boycotted on ideological grounds by most folk I know.
posted by taff at 10:27 PM on February 1, 2013

Righto, Aussie examples:

BP has changed its logo a few times, and you'll notice the latest iteration is a leafy looking, feel good earthy sort of thing - an important rebrand as BP started building massive truckstop thingers that have driven smaller diners and greasy spoons out of business, and have basically required the razing of huge amounts of otherwise virgin land. Not sure if you're familiar with it, but the BP travel centre on the Bruce heading up to Gympie springs immediately to mind.

Nestle is a good one, too. You won't find the Nestle logo on much at all any more, unless it's on the back or bottom, a small thing. Compare that to its prominence in the 80s and mid 90s.

Also the way Maccas has been subtley rebranding themselves over here in the last ten years or so. They've adopted a friendly, vernacular language, and have pulled back the "yankisms" that were popular in the 80s, when being American was seen as cool. If you go to their homepage now, the Golden Arches have "Maccas" under them, which is kind of telling.

You could also have a look at the diversification of in-house supermarket brands. Coles for example has I think like, three or four tiers to their generic brand these days, so you can buy home brand without looking like a total derro. They're entirely the same in the inside of the tin, but there's an illusion of different degrees of quality inferred by the different branding.

What else...I think the fact that Australians as a whole are not terribly brand conscious or brand loyal makes this a tricky one locally. We're more aware of big multinationals buying out our little brands (Kraft buying out Vegemite, for example) than we are of certain brands becoming tainted. Frankly, we're also nationally a bunch of contrarians so really I can see people buying tainted brands just to be special.
posted by Jilder at 11:32 PM on February 1, 2013

thanks everyone. I have a lot to pick from. I was hoping for a little more geographic diversity - but I guess it's just the mefite demographics.
posted by b33j at 1:11 AM on February 2, 2013


Rebranding effort from "British Petroleum" to "BP," along with a new logo (green-and-gold sunburst) to replace the old (green ... shield?) and new phrase "Beyond Petroleum."

I grew up and live in the Gulf Coast of the United States. I and many other people I know will flatly refuse to stop at a BP station.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:31 AM on February 2, 2013


Extensive branding in the UK and Ireland. While I have the usual relaxed Irish attitude to bad language, this really rubbed me up the wrong way as trying to be edgy and just being irritating.

I believe they lost a lot of money on trying to introduce the logo in the US, and finding that the more uptight American attitude to bad language led to a boycott.
posted by Azara at 2:38 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about brands associated with mass-casualty disasters? Union Carbide. Triangle Shirtwaists. If you look for specific countries you might find the diversity that way - I don't know if Italians recognize ICMESA, Givaudan, or Hoffmann-Laroche as the party responsible for the Serve so disaster but an Italian older than 40 could.
And there's always death merchants and their brands to turn to. I think many people in western Europe, Israel, the US and Oz wince when you mention Zyklon-B. I suppose many such retain their names from early development by governments and research collaborative projects (sarin, VX, Lewisite.) General Dynamics and Raytheon are well known for weapons.
Tobacco companies got a pretty good black eye in the US. Philip Morris US and Philip Morris International have both taken some hots.
posted by gingerest at 3:48 AM on February 2, 2013

I was going to mention Domino's Pizza for its founder's controversial support of anti-abortion efforts, but after double-checking I see the company has been sold to... wait for it... Bain Capital!
posted by Room 641-A at 4:21 AM on February 2, 2013

Italian firm Benetton has some bad press in recent years but I don't think it's ever reached "nasty brand" status (except in the Vatican).

French lingerie company Jours Après Lunes had their moment in the spotlight when they brought out a range for 4-11 year olds.

The Aldi and Lidl low budget supermarket chains are not so much hated but looked down upon by vast swathes of the English (and I mean English, not British) chattering classes* but since both companies regularly sell children's riding clothes and equipment plus ski wear for all ages, I suspect that many of those who claim that they're a blight on our high streets are in fact shopping there regularly.

There have been a few negative stories in the press recently about spying on customers (Germany) and on staff (UK) but there's not been much of an outcry in the UK at least.

* Example: "Lidl is for when you're too pikey for Iceland" - said an acquaintance of my OH. I'm glad he didn't say it when I was around.
posted by humph at 7:04 AM on February 2, 2013

More US-centric thoughts:

Fox News - just seeing the logo makes my blood pressure rise. Searching for "fox news unethical" brings up many hits.

KMart - the dregs of retail shopping. Dirty, poorly-lit stores, crappy merchandise, unfriendly staff. For something to be called "The KMart of [something]" was a huge insult and commentary on how bad something was in its category. (Back in the day, we called our local crappy junior college "The KMart of Higher Education".)

Would the flags of countries or other entities count as a brand or logo? The Confederate flag (again in the US) is very controversial.

Lady Li: "Oh, man, Comcast and United! Yeah, those are winners (at being awful). They're hated for bad customer service, not really for 'unethical behavior', except insofar as 'being a dick to your customers' is kind of unethical."

Caveat: I don't fly much. But FWIW, as a Chicagoan, the United brand actually has a positive connotation to me, due to the United Center (read: The House That Michael [Jordan] Built), and because United has its headquarters here and employs lots of people.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:30 AM on February 2, 2013

When I was in Cote d'Ivoire, there were "Samsung" brand cell phones that were actually cheap, poorly made knockoffs from East Asia (they called them "Telechinois"). They were pretty inexpensive, but they'd mysteriously stop turning on a week or two after purchase. Nobody wanted to buy anything with a Samsung brand.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2013

In the UK
Tesco - horse meat
News International - phone hacking
The 2012 olympic logo - Lisa Simpson blow job or spells "zion" This one is interesting because the logo itself was hated, but the Olympics were well received

In NZ our beloved Georgie Pie was bought out by KFC and swiftly closed. This was positive brand identity, similar to vegemite as it was seen as a part if national identity for a particular generation of kiwis.

Also and example of consumers subverting a brand: in NZ a local budget supermarket chain Pak'n'Save was dubbed Pak'n'Slave after protracted industrial dispute.

The NZ Wal-Mart, the Warehouse is called the Warewhare (pronounced worryforry) whare being Maaori for house. The rhyme plus the application of Maaori pronunciation to Ware, producing a homophone for worry, is an amusing play on words.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 6:20 AM on February 4, 2013

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