Bad brands should embrace their awfulness


Comedian Rhod Gilbert tells a story about a couple of bad brands in his 2012 show The Man With the Flaming Battenberg Tattoo. The brands were so bad, they became amazing.

The first one was a café chain called Red Hen, which was the messiest, most unhygienic location you could imagine. Tripled. According to Rhod, “calling them s**t would be like calling Hitler a scab.”

He elaborates if somewhere is s**t, you can just leave. But this Red Hen branch was so “hypnotically, spell-bindingly, mesmerisingly s**t,” customers were incapable of leaving. And that wasn’t just because of the sticky food on the floor.

There was a visitors’ log by the exit, which was full of insults and terrible reviews. You’d think the staff would have thrown this away fast, to avoid the comments inside damaging their brand’s reputation. But they left this here. Apparently, two pages had the words “F**k off!” written across them in big, bold letters.

Rhod then talked about the holiday company Ryanair, who have a bad reputation among their customers for cramped conditions and poor customer service on their aeroplanes.

Do they apologise for this? Nope. “They played a fanfare when the plane landed, which is the basic requirement of the plane,” said Rhod.

Brand identity

Too often, we see brands being overly apologetic for upsetting their customers. They try to reassure them they’re “passionate and committed to customer satisfaction” or something along those lines.

Personal experience suggests this approach often does nothing to improve the relationship with their frustrated consumers. The words “passionate and committed” have absolutely no meaning.

But Ryanair and Red Hen took a different approach. They knew they’d made bad impressions, but they incorporated this into their brand identities. And if Rhod’s tale is anything to go by, this hilarious, self-deprecating angle relates with consumers a lot more than a forced apology.

Having a laugh

In a perfect world, no brand would be awful. But if yours is, you could turn your failings into successes by admitting this and having a laugh at the same time.



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