By: Bridget McArthur 

Following a year of high profile company scandals, many businesses experiencing a bout of bad blood with the press are wondering if they’ll ever be out of the woods. In order to shake it off, it’s time for firms to start investing more in their communications strategy. And if you hadn’t guessed already, Taylor Swift might just be the role model they’ve been looking for.

Netflix’s recent release of Swift’s 2018 ‘Reputation’ world tour has been widely seen as the nail in the coffin of the Swift-hating era that saw Taylor branded as the ‘Gwyneth Paltrow of Pop’. But the transformation really started with the release of the album in late 2017 – an occasion that was to give birth to one of pop culture’s most poignant lessons in branding.

Following a tough year of criticism and a fall from grace akin to Britney’s infamous ‘good girl gone bad’ period, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter released an album taking ownership of her history of bad breakups and messy, all-too-public personal affairs. In addition to the record-breaking album and tour ticket sales, the brutally honest album catalysed a change of perspective on the T Swift narrative. Her dating history and public fallouts? Battle scars of a strong career woman. Her reputation as a “snake”? Turns out, snake’s the new symbol of strength and femininity. From a Twitter feuding, teary, seemingly ‘bland’ pop singer who can’t hold down a relationship emerged a new, grown-up feminist icon. And that’s a transformation worth studying for any corporation facing similar negative press.

As in entertainment, in business, if the world decides you’re one thing, it’s very hard to shake. And as a brand gets bigger and more well-known, the reputation only intensifies. Traditional methods of pushing back against negative branding or going hush hush aren’t effective in the age of social media and outspoken authenticity. Instead, firms need to not only face up to their reputations but make them work to their advantage.

When American car rental company Avis was being consistently beaten by a bigger and apparently better car rental company, it was a tough pill to swallow. So what to do when you just can’t get out of the shadow of a competitor? Advertise the fact. Avis came out with a campaign that didn’t just admit their second-tier market share, but actively promoted it. The message was simple: “When you’re only number two you try harder”. And you know why? Because “Avis can’t afford not to be nice”. This humble, honest advertising campaign, crafted by pioneering female advertising pro-Paula Green at Doyle Dane, Berbach, turned the ‘second best’ narrative on its head.

If the past year has made anything clear in advertising, it’s that the modern customer is savvier and more vocal than ever. Don’t be caught sweeping negative branding under the carpet. Don’t pretend you’re number one if you’re actually the loveable, hardworking underdog. Like Swift and Avis, businesses need to stop fighting perceived ‘negative’ reputations. It’s a lot easier to embrace the branding you’ve got than to constantly be pushing out a faux rebrand. In the end, haters gonna hate and fakers gonna fake. All you can do is shake what you’ve got and make customers love you for you.

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