This has been a very special week for us here in Norway, to say the least, where the unthinkable has happened, where Anders Behring Breivik, a lone extremist, not only single-handedly designed and detonated a bomb destroying major government buildings in downtown Oslo, but then also went on a shooting rampage at a Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island, killing 77 people altogether, most of them teenagers. Serendipitously, as details now begin to emerge, logistical miscalculations and delays and disruptions to the delivery chain (i.e. traffic accidents, road closures and diversions, and wrong timing in how long it actually takes to get from A to B to C even in comparatively small-town Oslo) may have averted an even bigger tragedy. A prime example of how a Just-In-Time supply chain can go wrong.
The perpetrator also left behind what he called his Manifesto detailing the reasons for his attacks, including descriptions of people, companies and products whose knowledge and products helped him carry out his mission, by legally and thus unknowingly providing him with the supplies he needed. Many companies (and persons) and now shocked to find their names and products associated with Breivik, asking themselves whether they should have seen or suspected anything beforehand. In all cases the answer is no, as all bomb ingredients were acquired through legal channels, and while for example fertilizer was a main ingredient in building his home-made bomb, you cannot have the police ransack every farmer who buys fertilizer to make sure he actually disperses it on his fields.
Being named as used or useful by a terrorist is not a good thing. Potentially it could be damaging to your reputation, ultimately costing you sales or even putting you out of business. Even though the aforenotmentioned companies had no idea who they sold their goods to, many people will now perhaps think twice before buying from them. The companies themselves may feel compelled to enforce stricter rules and sales policies, thereby losing potential and actually harmless clients that otherwise would have been deemed legal but who are now deemed dubious.
In Breivik's case he also uploaded what some press have called Public Relations photos to his Facebook profile, which almost looks like a media kit, posing among other things in Lacoste sweaters and a Skins wetsuit, both brands highly praised by Breivik for their quality. I would imagine that Lacoste isn't exactly thrilled by this sort of PR and that sales in Norway will dwindle into nothing very soon. Who wants to wear a Lacoste sweater after this?
According to an article on the Norwegian business news website e24.no, citing Swedish resume.se, Arnaud Leblin, Communications Director at Lacoste, declined to comment on the issue, stating simply that "our thoughts are with the victims and their families". That said, every news photo showing Breivik wearing his Lacoste sweater will implant the brand in everybody's mind and undoubtedly hurt the brand value. The Swedish article also advises Lacoste to lay low and refrain from any marketing campaigns for the time being.
Logistics provider DB Schenker was also mentioned as being utterly unreliable when his delivery was delayed and where he infuriated turned up in person at their offices in order to complain. Admittedly, not the usual customer behavior, says Agneta Odhe, traffic manger at DB Schenker, according to Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, but nothing you would alert the police to. In any case, not the best advertising for DB Schenker.
Not only does Breivik mention his favorite clothes brands, now perhaps forever tainted with the blood of his victims, he also mentions what type of car that is most unsuspicious for parking near bomb targets and what kitchen blender that proved itself to be most useful for mixing the bomb ingredients. Again, not the kind of marketing you may want your brand to have.
The lessons to be learned here are that bad things can happen to good brands (or good people, for that matter). While building a reputation takes time, it can be destroyed in no time, and rebuilding it can be very difficult, if not impossible. Are you prepared?
Have you ever had bad publicity happen to you? What did you do to counter it?
Honey, G. (2009) A Short Guide to Reputation Risk. Farnham: Gower Publishing