#16 – Yahoo & AOL make an Oath, toxic YouTube advertising, and Chipotle attacks McDonalds

#16 – Yahoo & AOL make an Oath, toxic YouTube advertising, and Chipotle attacks McDonalds

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March Madness may be over, but the reputation craziness continues into April!

Each week, we’ll take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Hello hello. We’re back again, episode 16, and we’ve got what we think is another great week of stories to share with you. Erin is with me again. Hi Erin.

Erin Jones:                  Hi there.

Andy Beal:                  How is your week going?

Erin Jones:                  It’s going pretty well. We had snow yesterday, but the sun is back out, so I don’t have much to complain about.

Andy Beal:                  Got to love the springtime. Spring came early for us, and then it kind of chilled off a bit, but it’s back up into the 70s, so definitely can’t complain here. All right. Let me ask you a question. If I tell you the word oath, what comes to mind?

Erin Jones:                  What comes to mind? Right off of the top of my head, I think very Dungeons and Dragons-y, Lord of the Rings-type connotations.

Andy Beal:                  So like pledging allegiance, kissing the ring, that kind of thing.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, yeah, like hoods and secrecy.

Andy Beal:                  Okay, well, that doesn’t bode-

Erin Jones:                  It’s a little dated for me.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, well, that doesn’t bode too well for Yahoo and AOL then, because they’re betting big time on kind of a rebrand. Once the deal, once Verizon acquires Yahoo, the plan is they are going to roll Yahoo and AOL into this new umbrella, this new brand, called Oath, O-A-T-H, not O-A-F as a lot of the internet are parodying it. They’re kind of betting that they can pull off the same kind of thing that maybe Google did with their Alphabet brand. Google decided, “Hey, we’re more than just a search engine. We need a brand,” so they went with Alphabet. Verizon’s going to go with Oath. AOL’s going to get rebranded as Oath. But they’re still going to keep, at least for the time being, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, that kind of thing. What are your thoughts on taking two pretty well-known brands and then rebranding them under this new Oath?

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, I’ve got mixed feelings about it. I don’t care for the word choice. I think Oath is one of those words that’s kind of clunky when you say it out loud. It doesn’t conjure up images of high tech or new and fresh to me. I don’t know. Yahoo, I feel like has been pretty solid lately, but AOL has been the butt of a lot of jokes lately because everybody still jokes about the dial-up CDs and things like that. I feel like if they wanted to come out of the gate strong, they probably should have come up with something a little bit more current for a name. I’m seeing the Oaf, the O-A-F, joke and Loathe, L-O-A-T-H-E. I feel like those are some things that maybe they should have caught before they went out with this. What are your thoughts?

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I don’t know, because Yahoo and AOL are pretty historic brands and for the most part, have positive consumer sentiment. I wonder how much of this was influenced by the recent news that Yahoo got hacked and a lot of credentials were stolen. I wonder if this is almost overreaction to that by saying, “We’re going to create a brand that people can rely on. This is our pledge. This is our oath.” Do you like my CEO voice?

Erin Jones:                  I love it.

Andy Beal:                  This is our oath to the consumer that we are going to protect their data and they can trust us and do business, [dadadadada 00:04:17]. It’s probably a lot of suits and ties sitting around a big desk thinking that this was going to be a really good, strong, trusted brand, but I just don’t know that … Like you said, I don’t know that it comes across as that, because the initial connotation that comes to my mind is it’s almost like bowing down, pledging allegiance to this company, as opposed to … I mean, if they had called it like Trust or something like that, then maybe that has a slightly … still a same strong word, but Oath maybe kind of almost makes us feel like we’re kind of pledging our lives and making a promise to them as opposed to their brand’s story to us.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah. I was surprised when I read it. I actually physically cocked my head a little bit when I read it. I just was kind of wondering if it was part of the April Fools’ gags going around. It just feels kind of hokey to me.

Andy Beal:                  They must clearly think that there’s some baggage in the existing brands that they need to distance themselves from. Charter Communication acquired Time Warner Cable, and I guess they thought that they needed to distance themselves from the Time Warner brand, so that’s being rebranded as Spectrum. It’s interesting. Actually a side story, Spectrum was the name of the very first computer that I owned. It was a Sinclair Spectrum, and it had 16 kilobytes of memory. When I hear Spectrum, that’s what I think of. I think of a really old, archaic, underpowered computer, but that may be just me growing up in England and that was one of my first computers.

I can understand you’ve got this desire to have a fresh start, but at the end of the day, your brand is only as strong as the reputation you build. It’s not like all of a sudden now overnight, this company is never going to get hacked. It’s never going to be subpoenaed for user data. It’s never going to have a misstep. It’s almost now they’re holding themselves to this extremely high standard that the moment that they have a misstep, that brand promise is going to come crashing down. They’re taking out a mortgage, if you like, on their brand equity. They’ve not built it, so they’re taking out a mortgage and hoping they can live up to this Oath brand.

Erin Jones:                  Right. In the meantime, I think the jokes are just writing themselves. That’s going to be hard competition, because you know how much the internet loves to poke fun.

Andy Beal:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. I’m sure we’ll see lots of play on words going forward, and Oaf and Oof and Loathe and all of that kind of stuff are going to be filling headlines of social media bloggers and journalists sometime soon. I’m sure of it. All right, well, let’s move on. The next story to talk about is kind of brand association, and in particular, we’re seeing a bit of a backlash right now with ads on YouTube. What are you reading about that?

Erin Jones:                  You know, I’ve seen things from a couple different angles. I’ve seen, first of all, the big brand ads that are getting placed next to really controversial content, such as terrorism-funded things or just very controversial ads being put next to a Pepsi ad and giving someone an association between the two brands. The parent in me has also seen people trying to slide things into some of the kids shows and the kids advertising, which is really frustrating when you get comfortable with something and then realize you need to be monitoring it a lot more closely than you thought you had to. I think the biggest concern right now that people are facing is the ad placement. I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about that.

Andy Beal:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think a study shows that 71% of consumers, video watchers, say they remember seeing advertising content alongside an offensive video, and then just over 40% of those people say that they felt worse about the brand after seeing that. 55% said it didn’t change their opinion, but clearly we’ve gotten kind of just lazy with our advertising. We’re trusting that YouTube’s just going to do the right thing, and so we’re just switching it on and letting it run against everything, and then being shocked when our content, our ads, are alongside a video that either doesn’t line up with our brand at best or at worst is alongside something that is universally offensive.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly. My question is I definitely think it’s hurting the brands a little bit, but I’m wondering what this is going to do for YouTube’s reputation long-term. They rely heavily on advertising dollars, and some major players have been pulling their ads.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and you know what? Something I’ve not seen mentioned is, what about the video creators? Has anybody checked in to see if they like the ads that are being run alongside their content? Because, you know, we’re in this highly political environment right now, so you could have a highly conservative video channel and all of a sudden, they’ve got ads running for MSNBC or pick whatever liberal brand, stereotypical liberal brand. Nobody’s really asking the video creators for their feedback on are you offended by the ads that are showing up, and there’s not really a lot of control on that. We run a lot of video … create a lot of video content, and it’s basically, “Do you want to switch on ads or not switch on ads?” There’s no real targeting on our end, and nobody’s really talking about that.

Erin Jones:                  Right. You see a lot more choices for the people who are paying [crosstalk 00:10:26]. The advertisers definitely get to have a lot more of a say in it, and I do wonder if that is going to make people look at other venues for hosting video content.

Andy Beal:                  Right, and I think it’s just going to make us take a step back and look at all of our advertising, and just make sure that we’re investing enough time in the targeting, because this stuff is so easy just to switch on and set and forget, and we don’t think about the consequences to our reputation when something negative … you know, our ad starts running against a negative video. For YouTube’s part, they’re on it, right? This is a big revenue stream for Google. I think I saw an estimate that this could cost them $750 million in advertising revenue this year alone, so they are implementing just about everything they can think of and partnering with companies that supposedly have technology that can weed out offensive videos and all of that kind of stuff, because this is a … I think again we all got kind of fat and happy on this, and now we’ve kind of realized …

It reminds me a little bit of click fraud, right? When paid search was first getting going, everybody was just really thrilled at how we could target everything, and we made good money per click and [dadada 00:11:50]. Then it kind of got out of control and people ruined it, and we had click fraud. Then all of a sudden, everybody was scrambling to make sure that we got rid of click fraud. I think that’s basically where we’re at with these YouTube ads.

Erin Jones:                  Definitely. Another thing that it kind of reminded me of was really early sentiment automation. YouTube is still a machine, and it’s still working off of what we tell it these videos and these ads are about. People can use two different words in two very … I’m sorry, the same word in two very different contexts, and their things can get put next to each other when they mean completely different things. I think some of it’s an education issue, and some of it, there’s always going to be those people trying to game the system and shake things up a bit.

Andy Beal:                  I mean, the one that comes to mind, I’ve not necessarily seen this in video ads but I’ve seen it in elsewhere, is you’ve got the story of some kind of murder. The murderer cleaned up the crime scene using Clorox bleach. The next thing you know, you’ve got an ad for Clorox bleach running alongside the content. That’s where you’ve got, “Hey, this matches, right,” but the sentiment is completely different.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly. I mean, they’re showing that it worked, so that could be taken a lot of different ways, depending on who is looking at it, their sense of humor, their background. There’s just so many variables to this that it’s a dangerous game.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Yeah. Well, we’ll see. We’ll keep an eye on this story, see what YouTube’s able to do about this. This is an opportunity for Vimeo or one of the other video networks to come in and beat their chest and say how they’re a better option and what they have in place. I think they were caught unawares too, but I have yet to see anybody talking about alternatives. I think everybody just wants to put a freeze on their YouTube advertising until YouTube gets this figured out.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed.

Andy Beal:                  All right, last story. We made it, what, three months into the year, and we’re talking about Chipotle.

Erin Jones:                  You know, these guys just can’t seem to get it together.

Andy Beal:                  Well, at least this time, you could argue they’re somewhat positive. They’re coming out fighting. They’re basically reacting to McDonald’s saying that they’re now working to serve clean food, and that is get rid of any artificial ingredients or artificial coloring, that kind of stuff, having actual flavors. But Chipotle’s having none of it, and saying that this is not really clean. This is a buzzword. They’re still potentially injecting flavors and ingredients. It’s just that they’re not artificial, and so there’s this gray area. It’s kind of like my wife and I like to joke that a restaurant will say it’s serving hand-cut steak. I was like, “What does that actually mean when you think about it? Isn’t all steak cut by hand?” I mean, it was like, do other restaurants [crosstalk 00:14:52]-

Erin Jones:                  It sounds fancy.

Andy Beal:                  Do they use robots in other restaurants? I don’t know. We got a lot of these phrases, these buzzwords, that are out there, but my question to you is Chipotle is not out of the woods yet in terms of all of the issues they had. What was it, E. coli or whatever, in their food and all the lawsuits they’ve had? Is it too early for them to come out swinging and acting like the good kids on the block?

Erin Jones:                  I think that that’s part of it, and the other part of it, I need to put on my tin foil hat for a second, McDonald’s owns an 87% stake in Chipotle. They have huge voting power for Chipotle on their board. Is this something to get them both talked about, because do people really expect McDonald’s to have clean healthy ingredients? I doubt it. Both of their stocks are up right now.

Andy Beal:                  Oh.

Erin Jones:                  Or is he about to get booted out of his job, because how long is McDonald’s going to take this abuse if it’s not mutually beneficial?

Andy Beal:                  See, I love a good conspiracy theory. We need to get-

Erin Jones:                  Me too.

Andy Beal:                  Michael Gray is going to share this podcast without a doubt, because he’s like … If you don’t know Graywolf, he is like the top conspiracy guy. I did not know that McDonald’s owned so much of Chipotle. Now we’ve got tension among the family, or like you said, is this just a really clever marketing ploy? Because I kind of tend to agree in that I have very low standards when it comes to McDonald’s. I mean, it’s not like-

Erin Jones:                  You have to.

Andy Beal:                  It’s like I’m impressed if there’s any white meat in any of their chicken products, so the fact that they’re trying to be clean is like, “Wow, that’s pretty good for McDonald’s.” I’m not really worried. I don’t think there’s much of an argument here, but it’s an interesting theory that this is just all about publicity for both of them. Huh, hadn’t thought about that.

Erin Jones:                  You know, I actually thought about Michael Gray before I said it and I was going to mention him, but I didn’t want to derail too much. It really caught my attention. Chipotle is a Colorado company, so it was a big deal here when McDonald’s took over the majority stake of the company. People were really worried that their good name would be tarnished, and you’ve seen them kind of dragged through the muck lately. I was really surprised to hear them saying anything bad about McDonald’s. They’re such different industries. Why would you even bring McDonald’s into the mix? I get why he would go at Panera. Panera’s thought of as a little bit more on par with Chipotle as far as being good “clean food.” Why would you drag McDonald’s into that conversation? It’s talking about two completely different industries within food service.

Andy Beal:                  Right. I also think that Chipotle has bigger issues at hand that they need to focus on rather than picking a fight with any brand.

Erin Jones:                  So many bigger issues.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I still haven’t set foot back in a Chipotle since all of the problems they’ve been having. I just don’t feel that we’re there yet, so I don’t think they’re in any position to … They’re in a glass house throwing chicken nuggets, as far as I’m concerned.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, and you’ve got to wonder if their PR team is just head in hand right now going, “Please be quiet. Just be quiet for a little bit longer, and let us get this under control,” or if they’re driving some of this.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, so this is where Graywolf would come in and say, “This is a deliberate ploy. This is a red herring that they’re getting you to focus on their fight with McDonald’s, which is not really a fight because, you know, it’s all in the family, because they don’t want you talking about, you know, the issues that they’ve got with HR and with their ingredients and cleanliness and all that kind of stuff.” The media’s falling for it, and now all of a sudden, Chipotle’s raised its reputation in the eyes of the consumer by being the company that’s the bastion of clean, wholesome ingredients.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, you always want to be the guy that looks better than McDonald’s as far as food service goes.

Andy Beal:                  Well, it’s a low bar.

Erin Jones:                  Right? I’m having a hard time figuring out … You know, if that’s where you’re going to attack, now he just put himself on par with McDonald’s to prove that he’s above them. Was this just a really, really unthoughtful way to go about doing things, or was there behind it? I don’t know, but I definitely, definitely perked my ears up a little bit when I was thinking about it.

Andy Beal:                  All right. Well, this is definitely going to be one to keep an eye on, because either this is absolute genius or this is reputation suicide. This is either some kind of corporate plot to raise the PR and the discussions for both brands, or this is the Chipotle CEO looking for a way out and maybe kind of … You know, maybe he’s fishing for a job at another company that has wholesome, clean ingredients. We’ll see, but yeah, okay, we can take our tin foil hats off. I’m glad I have mine on standby just in case we come across this. Great discussion. Thank you as always, Erin, for joining me and making for a lively chat.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you so much for having me back.

Andy Beal:                  The pleasure is mine. Thank you guys for listening. We don’t take it for granted. We appreciate you tuning in. We’d love to hear your feedback and your thoughts. You can leave a comment on the blog post that accompanies this podcast, or you can head to our Facebook page, AndyBealORM, and leave a comment there. We’d love to hear from you. Hopefully you will tune in again next time, and we’ll have some more juicy stories to talk about. We’ll keep you updated on any of these in case anything new happens. You can take that as an oath. On that bad pun, even Erin’s not really laughing at that one, so-

Erin Jones:                  I see what you did there.

Andy Beal:                  On that bad pun, we’re out of here. Thanks a lot. Enjoy the week. Bye bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.