How Far does bad brand reputation influence a consumer? I ask this question genuinely as I debate it myself in so much as how far would I go in order to not use or buy a companies products or services as a result of their poor reputation?

Most people in making this decision (and I’m no different) would draw on personal and collective experiences, word of mouth, recent news and media mentions, social media and other contributions to online reputation, and perhaps other mentions or memories from anything like protests or portrayals in a film, song or book.

Needless to say, there are many factors that may influence the decision to buy or not to buy, and the interesting part is that very few of them relate directly to the product itself in terms of personal experiences. The main influences are perceptions made from the interpretation of other people’s views, opinions, agendas and experiences.

Collective Interpretation

From deciding on where to go on holiday, what film to rent, what car to buy, which area to live in, what food to give your family or whom to buy your media from, the balance is firmly stacked on the side of consumers using the collective opinions, views and the experiences of others in making that decision. Unless you have personally seen everything, been everywhere, used everything, read everything and done everything, to a certain extent (even subconsciously) you rely on the wealth of collective data, both good and bad in order to make your decision.

Bad Brand Reputation v Personal Need

This is the crux of the issue I’m currently debating in that how bad does a reputation need to be before you say no? The dilemma is one of morals and ethics as much as it is about need and ultimately I would argue that need wins out, all things being equal.

Merck & Co

Merck & Co are a multi-multi billion dollar US drug corporation whom in 2004 pulled an arthritis drug (namely Vioxx) from the market amid reports it may have led to more than 27,000 stroke and sudden cardiac deaths. It was suggested that the final death toll may have been ten times this but the claim wasn’t universally supported. The scandal resulted in claims (later upheld) that the corporation sat on data for three years and suppressed it, all the while knowing the drug was unsafe. Merck later settled a class-action lawsuit for £3billion.
Yet some 8 years later and Merck are as dominant as ever in the pharma sector and if reputation had won out over need, they wouldn’t be. Consumers would have boycotted all their drugs. But they clearly didn’t so why is that?

Yet let us examine this example. You are sat in a doctor’s office and you have just been told you have a terminal illness and you will die in less than 3 months, BUT there is a drug available that could cure your illness and give you many years to come. In telling you about this treatment your doctor even informs you about the Merck Vioxx scandal, highlighting that Vioxx is one of thousands of drugs the company has produced over the decades and that the treatment he or she is proposing is your only hope. Would you refuse the treatment based on the previous Vioxx scandal?

News International

Here is another example. I am a Liverpool fan and despite some dire results I still support my club, even when at times they’ve made me mad with frustration from poor form on and off the pitch. I mention this only as a lead into the next example.

You would have to have lived on another planet to not know about the Sun newspaper boycott in Liverpool, in respect of the Hillsborough tragedy.

The Sun boycott and the reasons for it have been widely reported and this article is not a discussion point on Hillsborough, but to the extent of the Sun boycott in relation to consumer need in respect of other Murdoch businesses.

Personally I support the Sun boycott in Liverpool. I have even been involved in the campaign, albeit on the fringes, so it’s fair to say I am very supportive of the campaign and I will use myself as an example in this case.

As I have stated, I support the Don’t Buy the Sun campaign, yet I have Sky Sports at home and if I go the pub with friends and family to watch Liverpool and other Premier League games, (as a lover of football in general) I do not get up and leave when Sky Sports is on. It has to be noted that I am aware Rupert Murdoch controlled the Sun newspaper and now controls Sky Sports, as he does the Times Newspaper, NOTW, and the Fox channel in the US, amongst many many others.

And yet, although I am aware of this link, I and many other Liverpool fans like me do not boycott all of Rupert Murdoch’s businesses and products. We still use the Sky News website, we may buy the Times newspaper or use Sky broadband, and personally I don’t know any Liverpool fan that has boycotted Sky Sports and not watch their beloved LFC as a result.

Now that’s not to say some people haven’tboycotted Sky Sports and it’s not to say that the extent of the support for Hillsborough (and the campaign for justice) stops at the Sun boycott, it doesn’t. It just suggests that there are many many factors at play in the decision making process of how far to take your own morals, thoughts, beliefs and convictions in any given situation when faced with a need.

I was involved with a Don’t Buy the Sun concert in Liverpool which was attended by the MP Tom Watson who is very vocal in his distaste of the Murdoch empire, its influence and its practices. I am led to believe that Mr Watson is a big football fan, with non-League Kidderminster Harriers his first team and West Bromwich Albion a close second. WBA are a Premier League team so even considering Watson has written a book about Murdoch (Dial M for Murdoch) does he boycott Sky Sports?

Needs, Wants and Desires over Reputation

I would hazard a guess that Mr Watson, like myself, doesn’t boycott Sky Sports (*although I will endeavour to find out) and herein lies the crux of the point at hand in that, need for a given product or service has triumphed over a bad brand reputation of the brand or brand owner.

That Sky Sports wasn’t directly involved in the Sun reporting and subsequent scandal may well have a bearing on our decision making process as consumers in justifying our boycott of Murdoch ending with the Sun newspaper? Or extending it to the NOTW in the wake of the phone hacking scandal had it not been quickly closed down.

However, it should be noted that as with both Merck and Murdoch, they are examples were there exists a monopolistic marketplace, where no real competition or choice for the consumer exists.

Furthermore, if in the examples suggested, consumers had a like for like choice between Merck and Sky Sports or buying an identical product from another provider, I would argue that in that scenario, the bad brand reputation aspect would play a much larger part and indeed may well win out.

Whilst it is good news to learn that BT Vision has acquired the rights to broadcast more Premier League games, Sky Sports will still show Liverpool and other Premier League fixtures that BT wont and personally I cannot wait for the day that in this scenario, I am given a choice, and a real choice at that, as I can firmly say if I had the choice, I would side with BT than Sky.

Competition is in the interests of the consumer and whilst the The Leveson Inquiry maybe looking into BSkyB, it defies logic and reason that Murdoch was allowed to acquire so much control of the media in the first place.

However, whilst I am just an Online Reputation Management and SEO consultant and yet can see that a monopolistic marketplace, where no real competition or choice for the consumer exists, is a vey bad thing, I’m sure Murdoch and others like him are all too aware of the power and likelihood of keeping it, even given a bad brand reputation, when there are no challengers to that monopoly and as such seek out such a state pf play.