Brandjack Chronicles The Brouhahas Of Marketing

Nearly every marketing book I review for AdPulp contains a handful of case studies or brand examples. But they have nothing on the sheer quantity of case studies and “learnings” to be found in Brandjack: How Your Reputation Is At Risk From Brand Pirates and What To Do About it by Quentin Langley.

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“Dell Hell” and “United Breaks Guitars” are two well-known cases, but Langley goes on to chronologically track 140 cases from the past 10 years. Each example does a simple and effective job of summarizing the incident, what the players in the incident did right (or wrong), and learnings to be gained from each incident.

As its provocative title suggests, Langley demonstrates little empathy for any person or entity that would seemingly be on the other side of the brand (i.e., Dave Carroll, the man who wrote the “United Breaks Guitars” song.) There’s also a fair amount of media bashing sprinkled throughout because so many of these incidents become big flashpoints (and good linkbait) so fast.

Brandjack is clearly aimed for a C-suite and crisis management PR audience interested in damage control at all costs. Langley only offers suggestions that could alter the course of events after a “brandjack” occurs, not how more companies could, say, improve service or enact clearer policies to prevent such incidents. I suppose that’s OK because there are so many other books that fill that gap.

But overall, Brandjack serves as a master encyclopedia of some of the most provocative and controversial brand incidents we’ve seen. Anyone in social media, PR, or brand management could especially take the book’s learnings to heart.

Special thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for providing me with a review copy.

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About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.

  • Quentin Langley

    Thanks for the review, Dan.

    You are right, of course, that the book is aimed mostly at organisational leaders and managers who see their reputations at risk. It’s not designed as a handbook for potential brandjackers, though it could certainly be used that way, and I often comment on what Greenpeace or others did well.

    I don’t share your view, though, that the book has little to offer in terms of avoiding getting into these messes in the first place. Where I think the organisation behaved badly I don’t hesitate to say so under “What X did wrong”. Poor customer service or organisational malfeasance is undoubtedly the starting point in many instances, and this is the problem, not the fact that it became public.

    The two most common types of brandjack (and many of them come into more than one category) that I analyse are “self-brandjack” and “staff brandjack” which I expressly blame on the organisation.

    • DanGoldgeier

      Quentin, I found much of what you focus on — and rightfully so — is what organizations did right or wrong after the brandjack, although there are a few exceptions. And all your observations are quite good.

      My point is that there are many other authors tackling the idea, in depth of establishing corporate/organizational cultures that emphasize excellent service or empowering employers to handle issues before they escalate, which is easier said than done. (I guess that’s why you have such a deep catalog of incidents!)

      But as I said, you’ve done a great job of capturing these brandjacks in a thorough and consistent way, when so many other marketing authors only use the most egregious or infamous ones to make their point. And that’s what your book so valuable.

      • Quentin Langley

        Then perhaps I leaned further in that direction than I had intended. I certainly didn’t mean to let people off the hook for creating the situations in the first place – as was often (though by no means always) the case.