The Dangerous Influence of Teflon Brands

Are some brands made out of Teflon? Are they so beloved that they are beyond the reach of reputation-bruising crises and bad behavior by top executives?

Apple’s supply chain in China was exposed by the New York Times, but did that put a dent in iPhone sales? Wal-Mart’s systematic payment of bribes to officials in Mexico and its cover-up made headlines, but do its dedicated shoppers really care? New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella treats the media like pesky gnats, but has that affected sales of Molson beer at Madison Square Garden?

When a brand’s connection to its audience is so strong that it can survive nearly anything—like cockroaches after nuclear devastation—it sends a dangerous message to mere mortal brands. “Look at Wal-Mart!,” a CEO of a midsize company might say. “They tried to bury their own investigation in Mexico and I still can’t find a decent parking spot on a Saturday at my local branch. Why am I paying for my PR team? I’m going to live like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. No one cares!”

The answer to the CEO’s question: “You’re not Wal-Mart. You’re not even Ralph’s Italian Ices. And you’re definitely not Bill Murray. We’ve got 15 competitors in a tight market who do what we do, so quit with the drunken tweets from your corner sports bar.”

Teflon brands are like movie stars who try to give the impression on talk shows that they are just like us regular people. The rules that apply to 99% of American companies don’t necessarily apply to Apple, Wal-Mart and the New York Rangers. And if you’re a communicator in the 99%, the value of your work should not be diminished, not matter how many times Coach Tortorella says to a reporter “you’re not gonna get the answer.”

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI