Consumer Outcry: 9 big brand backlashes

WalletPop takes a look at what happens when good brands make bad moves -- and consumer outcry follows.

Oops! We guess Gap learned the hard way that you don't mess with a good thing. Last month, it unveiled a new "more contemporary, modern expression" (pictured at right) of its much-loved classic logo and consumers everywhere balked big time. After just one week -- and a massive outpouring of critical comments -- Gap announced it was reverting to the iconic blue box logo (pictured at left).

The near-universal disdain for Gap's new logo reminded us of another colossal brand blunder: New Coke. In 1985, The Coca-Cola Company launched a new formula intended to "energize" the Coke brand, but instead, it ignited a firestorm of protest. Here's how Coke's own website describes the resulting outrage:
"Calls flooded in not just to the 800-GET-COKE phone line, but to Coca-Cola offices across the United States. By June 1985, The Coca-Cola Company was getting 1,500 calls a day on its consumer hotline, compared with 400 a day before the taste change. People seemed to hold any Coca-Cola employee -- from security officers at our headquarters building to their neighbors who worked for Coke -- personally responsible for the change."
In the end, after just 79 days, the company responded to customer demand and brought back the original cola as Coca-Cola Classic.

But Gap and Coke are not alone in sparking public outcries that force management to take a second look at their brand blunders. We found nine more examples of marketing moves that made customers say, "Heck, no!" The backlash in six of these cases was strong enough that each company was forced to do a 180, or at least make concessions to appease consumers.

When Consumers Cry Foul ...

Stick a Straw in It

Ouch. After Tropicana rolled out new packaging for its Pure Premium orange juice line in 2009, consumers spoke with their wallets. Sales quickly plummeted 20% after the re-branding, while competitors posted double-digit sales increases during the same time period. Turns out the "straw-in-the-orange" design was integral to brand recognition and many consumers perceived the new look to be that of a generic or store-brand. Tropicana was forced to pull the plug on the redesign after it had only been on the market two months.

Noisy Bags Get Crushed

Frito-Lay's intention was admirable. In January 2010, SunChips began to hit store shelves in new "green" packaging that was 100% compostable. Unfortunately, due to the bag's unusual molecular structure, when a consumer handled the package it was also very, very loud. The result: sales tumbled. More than 50,000 Facebook users expressed their discontent by "liking" the humorously- named "Sorry, But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChips Bag" page. In early Oct. 2010, Frito-Lay announced it would be reverting five of the six SunChip flavors to their old bags, while it works to create a quieter more eco-friendly solution.

What a Headache

Don't mess with moms -- especially moms who Twitter and blog! That's what Motrin learned after it launched a video ad in September 2008 that offended many infant-toting moms. The ad focused on the pain that new moms who "wear their babies" feel, but its snarky tone (comparing a baby sling to a fashion accessory) rubbed many mothers the wrong way. The online backlash was fast and furious. Motrin quickly responded by yanking the ads and posting an apology on its website.

Getting Back Into Focus

Consumers and the media were in full agreement about the redesigned 2008 Ford Focus. They hated it. It was called "ugly," "really ugly," "embarrassingly ugly" and "drop-dead ugly." Oh, and did we say ugly? In a highly unusual move by an automaker, according to Autoblog, Ford responded to the unanimous hatred by implementing stylistic revisions to "smooth out the 2008 model's rough edges."

Don't Game the Gamer

When Electronics Arts released the highly-anticipated computer game Spore in 2008, we bet it didn't anticipate the controversy that would soon follow. It wasn't the game itself that had gamers up in arms, but the anti-piracy software that it contained. Known as Digital Rights Management, or DRM, the software limited the number of times a customer could install the game on various machines. Gamers liked the game, but they didn't like EA telling them what they could do with it after they purchased it. A flood of complaints led EA to soften some of the restrictions in 2008. But, in 2009, a year after the angry backlash, EA began offering a tool that let gamers remove authorization limits.

It's Mr. Chevrolet to You

Chevy lovers everywhere were outraged when they found out General Motors was trying to stamp out Chevrolet's beloved nickname. In June 2010, a corporate memo was sent to employees in Detroit asking them to take "Chevy" out of their vocabulary. Public reaction was swift. GM got the message and released a press statement backpedaling.

When Brands Stand Firm ...

Apparently, some companies feel that the customer isn't always right. In these three cases, the brands stuck to their guns despite push-back from the public

Graphic Displeasure

In 2009, IKEA decided to change the typeface in its latest catalog. The font change -- from Futura to Verdana -- was the first in 50 years. And according to the petition IKEA received, it was not a welcome change. The company expressed surprise at the controversy, but decided the fury came mainly from graphic designers and other font lovers, and was not an issue for the general public. So, despite the wave of protests, Futura bid adieu.

A Diaper Mess

Procter & Gamble launched Pamper's Dry Max in March 2010, with the hopes of gaining more profit and market share. What it got instead was a heaping load of controversy. Soon after the diapers launched, parents began complaining that their children were getting sores and rashes that they claim were caused by the new product. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission began an investigation after it received almost 4,700 complaints from April to August 2010. It could not find any specific cause to link Pamper's Dry Max diapers with diaper rash. Still, group after group on Facebook beg for the return of the old Pampers. For its part, P&G maintains the diapers are 100% safe.

No Gold Medal Here

In 2007, when the logo for the 2012 Olympics was first revealed, the general consensus was along the lines of "What were they thinking?" Since then, little has changed. The new design reportedly cost organizers $800,000. But according to the vast number of the logo's critics, it was not money well-spent. Organizers defended the branding, saying it was "bold" and would carry them into the future.
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