I started Best + Worst Brands as a weekly column in 2009. It was a way for me to talk about what I love (brand, culture, and design) while opening a window into my life (therapy). A form of creative nonfiction-New Journalism. Thank you for reading and sharing, sending me stuff to review, and encouraging me to write.
To note, my criteria for selecting 2016's Best and Worst brands are as follows:
I wanted this list to be expansive across industries and to note, obvious failures like Wells Fargo and Samsung have not been isolated because my peers at Forbes and The Wall Street Journal have done a good job of slamming them already. I'm writing original content here☺ (in my Jersey Shore voice).
With Jon Stewart off the air and a desert of researched and fact-checked truths on nearly every cable and online news platform, I found solace watching the patriotic Saturday Night Live cast through the iridescent suds in my bathtub (I have a laptop shelf near the tub). They stood up for integrity in ways the Hillary Campaign missed. Where SNL was unapologetic and acute in their criticism of Mr. Trump, the Hillary Campaign was roundabout in their interpretation of data and of Bill Clinton's good instinct like a bad 1970's rearview mirror.
Who didn't love watching Dolly Parton emerge with Pentatonix for "Jolene"? Although my love for country music is isolated to Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Blake Shelton, Jolene is one of my top five songs of all time. We saw Parton rally once again to help her fellow Tennesseans affected by the wildfires. Damn Dolly, you look good and you are one true soul.
Another blond I am crushing on is Megyn Kelly. She stood up to Trump, Roger Ailes, and Newt Gingrich. Kelly has advanced the cause of women in media and that's important to me because as a VP of Creative Media only 3% of creative directors are women. The truth is as Gillian Tett of the Financial Times said, "... a world where even a female Fox TV star can end up being trolled by a Republican presidential candidate is a peculiar place" and Kelly is one of the few relevant role models for female journalists (Christiane Amanpour, respek ✌). Megyn Kelly on our BEST category also goes in our WORST category for publicly claiming that both Santa and Jesus are white.
Inspired by the better angels of our nature, comes two great social media moments. Like a local Oreo cookie moment, The Standard Hotel offered free rooms on Instagram to those affected by the trash can briefcase explosion in New York City on September 17. And who will ever forget citizen Josh Billinson for his Joe Biden / Obama memes? Those memes gave me the "I found money in my pockets folding laundry" kind of joy.
Unlike Dolly, Anthony Weiner is not a one true soul. Though he wasn't a smoker, Anthony once taught me this cigarette trick where he'd flip it into his mouth from his hands a few feet away. We knew each other socially until the early aughts and I defended him after the scandal in 2011 and 2013-you know, silly macho indiscretions like Kennedy. After the 'Son and Erection' photo, it was clear he was immune to his own brand of sexual addiction and hubris. This was hard to watch.
The kind of macho I can support comes from Chubbies, an ecommerce retailer, whose tagline Sky's Out, Thighs Out comes with a mission to rid the human species of those 'thigh constricting garments' called cargo pants. While this brand is only about five years old, it has created a strong community of people bounded by the idea that we should not take ourselves too seriously. We need some levity for today's world.
Vera Bradley, unfortunately alienated their community with an awkward new logo design and Victorian ad campaign that did the opposite of Always' #LikeAGirl. The Vera Bradley target is a GenZ female that plays on her school's varsity team plus a traveling team and wants to be a journalist or athlete, not a stepford wife. Yes, they may like lipstick and chivalry, but they also like to be taken seriously. Look to Teen Vogue who quickly understood their morphing teenage market with beauty and brains content. Want to know what the top shared stories in Teen Vogue were in 2016?
1. Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America
2. How to Apply Glitter Nail Polish the Right Way
Uber had me shaking my head with their new identity redesign. When they unveiled their logo, you would have thought they also invented the design process and cultural attunement. The "differing pattern for each country" concept is an amateur nineties technique. Any brand expert (should they like to consult one in the future) will tell you that identity must be simple enough to recognize, but also to facilitate and maintain. That logo drives me crazy. Every time I search for the Uber app on my phone, I can't find it because I won't ever connect Uber with a backwards 'c.' I mean why would I? Why would anyone?
Let's talk about good design rollout. Snapchat rolled out their Spectacles with big yellow vending machines (Snapbots) at predetermined locations in countdown fashion garnering loads of earned media. Plus they positioned their glasses as a toy, not device. Check here to find a Snapbot coming to a location near you. We can't leave out one of my favorite product category when we talk about product design: sneakers. The most beautiful sneaker this year has to be NikeLab Air Force 1 Mid in Vachetta Tan designed by Hender Scheme. It has this beautiful silhouette with a translucent sole and the vegetable dyed all over color leather is just delicious. The price? $165. Not ridiculous.
Now look Mr. Trump, I don't want you to be assassinated, but your brand of post truth is making a 'Gaslight Nation' out of us where it's ok and expected to manipulate and be manipulated. It's already happening to me (hello shady Thievery Corporation ticket seller. It is not ok for you to sell me ghetto scanned in pdf tickets that the venue couldn't scan. And yes, it's perfectly normal for me to be bitchy about it). Kids all over America will gaslight their parents about the broccoli eating even though it's still on their plate. They will say, "I ate the broccoli. All of it. It's so fantastic how I ate all of it. Look at how great my broccoli eating stomach and mouth are and look at how great a job I did," while the broccoli remains, all of it, on the plate. For the next four years, I will just do what I did during the election and pretend our reality was just a bad dream and that The West Wing was my real life. Josiah Bartlet for President. Thank you Aaron Sorkin.
Finally, a moral America cannot exist within this bubble where racial, gender, and religious inequality is normalized. Hamilton the play gives us unity in a disheartened America. It's a common language that both Dick Cheney and Obama speak. A place where we all can agree in the awesomeness of the courage in the men that founded our country.
I know we're out of attention span, so I'll just list the rest. Let me know if you thought I missed anything. I'll look into it.
- Caspar: For their smart sleep focused content marketing site, Van Winkle. Bravo.
- Carpool Karaoke: James Corden, You Make America Happy. Thank You.
- Tribe Called Quest: Their new album We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is a layered collage of sound and fury. Tribe did not let us down.
- Facebook: Facebook Live is great, but fake news sucks. Your priority should be cleaning up the feed.
- State of Rhode Island Logo and Tagline. Logo designed by my hero Milton Glaser isn't so bad, but the tagline Warmer and Cooler could only work if the brand guidelines required the tagline only appear with a recitation of it by Zach Galifianakis
- United Airlines: Starting in 2017 you will now have to pay for carry-on bags. Even one carry-on bag.
- Cheetos Brand Jewelry: Why? Cheesiest content marketing ever. Yes, in this case I call Cheetos Jewelry- content- because its purpose is solely driven to sell Cheetos. And it's not merchandising since it doesn't have any branding on it.
- IPhone 7: This wireless earphone nonsense is insane. I like the wire. It's a signal to people that I am in the middle of something. That's why the Bluetooth earpiece isn't a fad anymore because people looked like they were all talking to themselves.
- Tronc: This is Tribune's Online Content division that partners with brands in creating native and branded content. The name hurts. I just don't understand how global brands can develop names and logos in a vacuum like this. Names are the first customer touchpoint and can determine brand success. Letters and sounds create positive or negative sentiments in our mind. William Safire would have written a brilliant piece on this. Still miss you Mr. Safire.
- New Balance: Well, you know what you did.