What Will Be the Most Hated Company in America for 2015?
There are no official oddsmakers out there tracking the potential sultans of vile, but we can probably get a good read of the playing field by considering some of last year's contenders and some of the companies that have stumbled in the eyes of consumers over the past year.
Comcast is the reigning champ, and it's a strong contender to repeat this year. Video customers continue to defect from the company ridiculed for its outages and crummy customer service. Things are so bad on that front that Comcast bragged about only losing 81,000 net pay TV subscribers in its most recent quarter, its best third-quarter performance in seven years.
However, the world's largest cable TV and Internet provider threatens to grow even larger with its pending purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC). Regulatory resistance has been holding that back, but Comcast has a long way to go if it wants to restore its brand image.
Last year's runner-up is the agricultural chemicals giant that's often blamed for the growing presence of genetically modified organisms -- GMOs -- in our food supply. The rallying cry against Monsanto is still there, but it doesn't seem as loud as it used to be. It's certainly not going to be a consumer darling anytime soon, but with the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and other organizations concluding that genetically modified crops aren't any less safe than crops modified by conventional harvest improvement techniques, it may not be as despised as it was in the past.
The world's largest retailer made the Final Four last year, and activists challenging the chain to provide higher wages and better benefits only intensified their protests this holiday shopping season. Walmart did win some accolades this past summer for hosting an event where hundreds of stateside suppliers pitched their products -- part of the discount department store chain's commitment to buy an additional $250 billion worth of American-made products through the next 10 years -- but it's still a brand that's reeling.
Walmart has tried to counter critics of its low starting wages by pointing out that 75 percent of its store management team started out as hourly hires, and now store managers are earning between $50,000 and $170,000 a year. However, that won't be enough to prevent Walmart from being a hot contender this year.
Like Walmart, SeaWorld made the Final Four last year. The marine-life theme park operator has been taken to task for having dolphins and killer whales in captivity. Its business practices have been called out in "The Cove" and "Blackfish" documentaries, and attendance has fallen as a result of the negative publicity.
SeaWorld may have won itself some relief late last year when it announced that it would be updating its orca habitats to feature much larger tanks, but since attendance has fallen sharply through 2014, it's a safe bet that consumers still think that something fishy is up at SeaWorld.
The Big Mac daddy wasn't able to get beyond the second round in last year's survey, but 2014 has been a rough year for McDonald's. Sales are slipping at the individual restaurant level, and the same activists arguing for better pay at Walmart are protesting that McDonald's also doesn't pay a living wage to its employees.
McDonald's may not seem as despised as the other companies on this list, but reports have surfaced about the chain killing off a few menu items later this month in a push for simplicity. If some cult faves are nixed, you can be sure that the dissent will be vocal.
Villains Are Everywhere
These aren't the only five companies that stand a good chance to walk away with Consumerist's top "honor" in a couple of months. The country's largest wireless carriers, gas companies, airlines and the "too big to fail" banks are regulars on this list. There doesn't seem to be a shortage of companies worth hating.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.