Lesson learned in Central Europe: Why protecting your brand is important

It was an incident that was more than just bad PR or negative publicity, and it could go down in the annals of brand disasters. A terrible news story involving a delivery truck sent a company logo around the world, but this was likely the last kind of product publicity that food producer wanted for its brand.

trusted brand sign illustration design over a white background
Keep your brand on the “straight and narrow” by protecting it

In the summer of 2015, authorities in Austria discovered on the side of the road a meat truck from a country in Central & Eastern Europe which was releasing a horrible smell and from which blood was dripping. But it wasn’t just a refrigerated meat truck filled with product that had broken down – that would be bad enough. Worse, this truck was filled with 71 migrants who had suffocated inside the cargo hold, the smuggler abandoning the full-scale tragedy on the roadside.

Please understand that I’m not trying to make light of this terrible happening in this post. It is morbid, I admit, but highlights the importance of protecting your brand and management of branded assets as well as your messaging.

Lost logo, spoiled slogans

According to a news report from the Daily Mail, “On one side of the truck was the slogan ‘Honest chicken,’ while writing on the back read ‘I taste so good because they feed me so well.’” The company’s logo, while a bit confusing (at least to me), uses a drawing of a chicken as the letter “y” in its name. It’s distinguished and likely well recognized in the company’s main market. But this meat producer had sold a company vehicle and forgot to remove cleanse the truck of its brand, leaving things to chance.

The Daily Mail article notes that the company the delivery truck belonged to earlier confirmed they had sold it in 2014 “but the new owner failed to remove their logos.”

So I guess it was the new owner’s problem? Not really. If it’s got your logos and slogans all over it, protecting a brand is your responsibility when the brand belongs to you. The original owners were just too lazy and/or cheap when they sold off the truck, so they have to live with the potential damage done to the brand.

The whole incident reminds me of the marketing risk management I do for one of my clients. Part of that job is training staff across Central & Eastern Europe in the policy, and one rule is never distributing the company logo to third parties without first going through a due diligence and approval process. This is difficult to police considering that logos can be sent to business partners, event organizers, etc. at the click of a mouse. Once in possession of such a logo, those parties could misrepresent their relationship with the company in question, so it pays to be prudent and get proper approvals from the owners of a brand before hitting the send button.

The damage done? Negative publicity, bad brand associations

Fast forward to a year later and I’m browsing the aisles at my local supermarket, where I see an open-top refrigeration unit full of hot dogs. There’s even a “sale” sign on it, although I can’t remember what the discount was. The label on the packaging was very familiar to me, and it wasn’t a good association that I felt, but a feeling of revulsion. It was the very recognizable logo I had seen a year earlier from the tragedy on the side of the road.

I’m sure the hotdogs are fine, but you’ll never catch me trying them. I can imagine others in the region might feel the same. Depending on how much this horrible incident has affected the company’s brand, they might even consider a rebranding to cleanse their company of the negative associations that they actually allowed to happen by not being more careful. Not protecting your brand means that new customers will be unlikely to try your products, and those making regular purchases might even have doubts about continuing to do that.

The lesson to be learned is never be a cheapskate when it comes to protecting your brand. Your brand lives on wherever it appears, so you can’t count on the new user of any vehicle or piece of equipment to cleanse it of your brand, which seems like the best way to avoid brand problems or even brand scandals.

A journalist and public relations specialist, Drew Leifheit is the founder of Sounds Serious, a boutique communications consultancy in Central & Eastern Europe. He has been in charge of marketing risk management, and training staff in the subject, at a Big4 firm for the last 13 years.

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