Brands make mistakes. Coke, one of the world’s most valuable brand, has made dozens of them in its 125 year history. Some have been big but harmless, as was the case with New Coke, while others had slightly more sinister undertones, for example their launch of Dasani water in the UK, with its toxic campaign and ingredients. These failures were the result of human error and Coke suffered for a time but they picked themselves up and moved on. The News of the World scandal is a whole new level. The phone hacking scandal was so much more than a mistake, it was a debacle, a catastrophe of epic proportions.
But amidst the outrage what seems to have been forgotten is the fact that it was numerous human mistakes that led to this point. Of course we’re not defending what The News of the World did, it is clear that a number of journalists lost, or just plain ignored their moral compass. However the huge difference in this case is that News International is making the brand the sacrificial lamb rather than acknowledging that human beings behind the brand make the decisions. The way the story has been reported, even the way James Murdoch spoke about it in his recent statement, it is as though The News of the World had taken on a life of its own, imbued with human powers of decision-making and judgement. But the fact remains that because individuals were not held to account, they have brought down an 168 year old brand which was still hugely popular and brought in huge ad revenues, not to mention the sacrifice of 200 jobs, 197 of which apparently were not even around at the time of the original wrongdoing.
To our knowledge no other brand in history has been terminated so swiftly (although reports suggest that it may resurface as the Sun on Sunday). It is a damning failure and a valuable lesson in the value of transparency and honesty in branding and business in general.
Well, that’s enough doom and gloom for today. To lighten the mood we thought we’d run a little friendly competition. What headline would you run for this Sunday’s final edition of The News of the World? Post your replies in the comments box below.