A recent survey has revealed the most hated brands in Britain. Topping the list is UKIP, the right-wing Eurosceptic political party, with the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister David Cameron hot on their heels at number two. Third place goes to Marmite, a brand that successfully plays on this ‘love it or hate it’ relationship. Budget airline Ryanair, is fourth. The Labour Party and Lib Dems are ranked fifth and sixth. High street convenience brands, McDonald’s, Starbucks and KFC complete the top ten, along with social media giant, Facebook.
So how does a brand become hated, and does it really matter? After all, McDonald’s are so popular they’re open 24 hours a day now and Marmite is undoubtedly the most popular sticky, dark brown food paste in your local supermarket. How many times have you checked Facebook today? You might hate it, but you can’t keep away from it.
But becoming one of the most hated brands in the country is actually pretty hard to accomplish. It means a lot of people need to know you exist, they need to understand what you stand for and they need a reason to elevate their mild dislike of you into a strong emotional reaction like hate. It’s the opposite recipe to the one adopted by brands looking to achieve customer love.
Challenger brands like Ryanair and UKIP consciously adopt, and stand firm in their polarizing points of view in order to attract the oxygen of publicity – the age-old adage of “no PR is bad PR”. This allows them to rapidly raise public awareness levels, articulate their message and ultimately attract passionate advocates. The obvious trade-off is that their polarizing opinions also act as a recruiting sergeant for haters.
Once these challengers reach a critical mass they face a choice if they want to continue to grow. They can continue playing to their niche and wait for that group to become the mainstream. Or they can moderate their approach and reach out to more ordinary consumers.
This process of moderation is referred to as brand detoxification and it’s extremely hard to accomplish effectively. David Cameron’s early leadership of the Conservative Party was dominated by this process as he sought to prove the party’s values had genuinely changed through a combination of modified presentation and new policy statements. This was underpinned by a huge listening exercise aimed at understanding what the conservative brand had become and what actions it would take to truly signal a change of course.
Any of the top ten most hated brands seeking to grow in popularity face exactly the same choice. Wait for their niche to become the mainstream or detoxify now. The former is a huge gamble and the latter is resource and time intensive. That’s one of the reasons why listening skills like understanding the tide of public opinion and being able to pin point what needs to change is more critical to PR than ever.