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JetBlue and Merck: Whom do you trust?

JetBlue is having its own Katrina crisis, but they will emerge successfully not just because they have a CEO willing to listen and learn, but because they have so much goodwill in the image bank that there’s enough reserve currency for them to draw upon. The full-page, full-on national mea culpa that ran today in the New York Times and other papers is a key step in their public repentence process.

JetBlue is having its own Katrina crisis, but they will emerge successfully not just because they have a CEO willing to listen and learn, but because they have so much goodwill in the image bank that there’s enough reserve currency for them to draw upon. The full-page, full-on national mea culpa that ran today in the New York Times and other papers is a key step in their public repentence process.

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The reason the will prove resilient is that they “saved” for a rainy — or a snow and icy — day, by years and years of innovation. It wasn’t spin, but a revolutionary customer-first spirit that everyone who flew the airline could feel.

Even the fundamental reason for the breakdown — an inadequate investment in infrastructure and communications — can be rationalized by some as another example of the carrier’s dedication to keeping costs down, an ultimate consumer benefit. They tried too hard for those they love.

Compare that with the scrutiny that Merck is under for the curious rapidity that has 21 states attempting to make Merck’s new vaccine for cervical cancer a mandatory innoculation for young girls. Merck’s past behavior has created cynics out of us all, so everything they do is subject to question. Even a potentially life-saving public health innovation is being scanned for ulterior motives with the same scrunity as a pathologist looks at a slide of potential cancer cells.

Merck’s less-than-transparent history with regard to Vioxx, and their refusal to accept responsibility, isn’t just bad for stockholders, it’s bad for young girls who might be deprived of the vaccine because of the questionable history and practices of its developer. It’s a remarkable moment when a discount airline has engendered more long-term trust than a pharmaceutical icon.

There’s a lesson in this. Not every company has a Katrina moment. But every brand will hit a crossroads where the loyalty of consumers is tested under fire. What are you doing now to add assets to your reputation bank?

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About the author

Adam is a brand strategist--he runs Hanft Projects, a NYC-based firm--and is a frequently-published marketing authority and cultural critic. He sits on the Board of Scotts Miracle-Gro, and has consulted for companies that include Microsoft, McKinsey, Fidelity and Match.com, as well as many early and mid-stage digital companies

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