2012: The year in branding

December 10, 2012

As we look back on 2012 through the lens of branding, there are a number of notable stories you can point to. Kodak and Twinkies teeter on the brink of extinction. Facebook struggles though its IPO yet retains a commanding place in the media landscape. Apple becomes the world’s most valuable company in history. Here at CoreBrand, we’ve asked our team of bloggers to take their own view on one brand story particularly notable or memorable for them. What is your most compelling brand story of the year?

Susan G Komen

Ellen Sluder
The decision (and later reversal) by the Susan G Komen Foundation to pull its funding for Planned Parenthood in early 2012 stands out as a memorable blunder in brand management. Two important brand lessons stand out to me: 1) Be clear about who you are. When abortion rights got mixed up with the mission to end breast cancer, audiences became confused about what the Foundation stood for and pulled their support. 2) Communicate clearly and consistently. If the Komen Foundation had explained how the defunding would actually better enable them to help fight breast cancer people might have been more understanding. To retain — or regain — supporters, the Foundation needs to communicate above and beyond business-as-usual to rebound from this brand crisis. The long-term damage remains to be seen, but the Komen Foundation is still struggling with the aftermath — and probably will be for some time.

Miami Marlins

Jonathan Paisner
Late 2011, the then-Florida Marlins became about as splashy as it gets in Major League Baseball: a wave of huge free-agent signings, a fiery new manager, a dazzling new ballpark (replete with a fish tank behind home plate!) and, of course, a new name and logo. This was to be a whole new brand of baseball, Miami Marlins style.

But the game between the lines played out differently. By the middle of the woeful 2012 season, key players were shipped off. In November, last year’s high-ticket superstars were trade bait for the biggest salary dump in baseball history. Baseball, like branding, is a game of patience and perseverance — but not, it seems, in Miami. Come Opening Day, we’ll see if the new stadium has as many fans as there are fish in that tank.

Samsumg Galaxy S III

Andrew Maia
This time last year, Apple was the undeniable leader of mobile. But things changed in 2012. As its Galaxy S III smartphone became a mainstream alternative to the iPhone this year, Samsung stepped up as a formidable competitor to the darling brand.

Samsung launched its solid product by making a splash with its comical ad campaign, "The Next Big Thing is Already Here." In its ad, Samsung poked fun at the loyal herd mentality of Apple fans. Samsung's product has gained serious traction, having beaten out Apple as the leading handset maker in the US market for the first time ever this past October. The rivalry also deepened this summer as Samsung went head-to-head with Apple in court and lost; a jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages from Samsung violations of its patents. 2013 will bring the next chapter in this clash of the mobile titans.


Charles Muir
After 24 years, Nintendo Power magazine is shelved during the same month that the Nintendo Wii gets a successor. Gamers can defend or attack the Nintendo brand, but the company deserves respect and acknowledgement for creating such iconic characters and for perpetually going against the grain in style and technology.

The print magazine was just no longer relevant to the growing number of gamers who don’t utilize traditional media. As for the Wii U, it has received a lukewarm response from critics, gamers and the entertainment industry in general. The Wii’s successor is more an evolutionary stroll than a revolutionary leap. Will the Wii U help remind people just what Nintendo is capable of? I truly hope so. But, they’ll have to reach gamers focused on hardware specs and third party support, which have been Nintendo’s weaknesses in previous “console generation wars.”

Virgin America

Russ Napolitano
I am actually experiencing one of my favorite branding moments as I write this from 30,000 feet. You see, there's a new airline in town (Philly), and this brand has just won me over big time. There is no doubt that flying is an experience and Virgin America exceeds expectations. The Virgin America brand experience begins immediately from the time you make your on-line reservation and you are introduced to Red. However, it is once you are on board that your senses are tapped like no other I've experienced before. The spa-like music and colorful mood lighting immediately take the stress out of flying. The comfortable leather seats (yes, even in coach) and individual touch screens for all your entertainment, food and on-line chat needs really capture the essence of this brand. Oh, did I mention that the in-flight video presents the required FDA regulations via a quirky cartoon, making you actually want to pay attention to see what happens next?

Every Virgin America touch point reinforces the desired brand experience with Red being a common theme throughout. So… now I'm in a bit of a quandary. My Premier Gold status is with that other airline that treats you like one of the herd. Do I stay brand loyal and trudge through the flying experience just to earn additional points or do I begin to build brand loyalty with the better brand experience?

Obama Romney

Beth Flom
For me, the biggest news story of the year was also the biggest brand story of the year: the 2012 presidential election. This was the year Americans voted for a brand. Whether your vote was cast for Obama or Romney, the candidate was bigger than a single individual. Each candidate was a completely branded entity and we voted on how clear, relevant, believable and distinct we felt each was. Did the campaign have a brand promise or a big idea? Did the campaign have clear messaging? Was it consistent? Did it resonate? Did the campaign make an emotional connection with the electorate?

The fundamental principles of branding hold true whether for a corporation, a non-profit or even a presidential candidate. The organization (or person) that harnesses the power of branding best consistently comes out ahead.


Larry Oakner
In the wake of the 2009 financial crisis, AIG — one of the largest insurance companies in the world — took $182 billion in government bailouts. The behavior of the organization, and its besmirched reputation among agents, policyholders and the public, drove the company to change its name first to AIU to distance itself from AIG’s stink. Then, since AIU was deemed too close to its acronymic parent, the company did a complete rebrand to Chartis.

Three years later, in 2012, Chartis reverted back to AIG, since advertising research showed better responses and lower customer acquisition costs using the AIG name. So after all that, did AIG really think people wouldn’t recognize who they were? It’s not only bad naming practice: it’s the kind of slight-of–brand trick that doesn’t do much to help improve their reputation.

So now it's your turn. To paraphrase, there are eight million 2012 brand stories in the naked city. These are some of ours. We’d love to hear yours in the comments below.
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