Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Don't Be Evil - Unless It's Profitable

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Don't Be Evil - Unless It's Profitable

Article excerpt

The British Airways pilot sounded calm, but he urgently needed a decision. Shortly after taking off from LAX one of the four engines on his Boeing 747, had exploded. With 5000 miles to fly and 351 passengers on board, should he return to Los Angeles or continue the flight to Heathrow?

Senior BA managers on the ground faced a crossroads. If they considered BA's brand values, the direction was clear: the airline that defined itself as 'reliable' and 'reassuring' would obviously advise the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to LA. But if the management team started to look at the financial implications, the decision became more difficult.

Turning the plane around would cost the airline upward of pounds 100,000 in reimbursement costs. Should they take the brand path or the profit path?

At 29,000ft somewhere over Northern California the pilot's radio crackled into life and his orders were conveyed. Continue on to London. The pilot was probably not surprised. In 15 engine failures since 2001, BA had made the same decision. For all the fine identity work, advertising and PR, when a pile of money is put on the table, brand values cease to be relevant.

Business comes before brand - economics before equity.

An even bigger brand has been facing an even bigger crossroads this year, and last week we learned that it may regret the path that it has taken.

In late 2000, Google engineers created a clunky but effective Chinese version of its main portal that quickly became as important a part of life for millions of Chinese people as it had for the rest of us. Then, in 2002, the portal vanished. The Chinese government had begun blocking it using what has become known as 'The Great Firewall of China'.

With Google's performance severely restricted in China and a local search engine, Baidu, rapidly emerging as the market leader, Google faced an enormously difficult choice. It could acquiesce to the Chinese government and develop a nation-specific site that enforced the authorities' censorship policy. Or it could remain true to the brand's much-heralded commitment to the freedom of information and stay out of the world's biggest market for search.

The contrast between brand and business opportunity could not be more stark. Everything in Google's brand identity screams non-co-operation with the Chinese government. …

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