Societal Crises: The Brands That Won & Lost

Peppercomm and BrandFoundations Analyze Best & Worst for 2018


The year 2018 was the year of taking a stand. Peppercomm and BrandFoundations today released their analysis of the brands with the best- and worst-managed societal crises.

The firms, who interviewed more than 50 chief communications and chief marketing officers to determine best practices and create a groundbreaking service offering for preparing for and responding to societal crises, used three criteria in making their assessment rating each on a scale of 1 to 5:

  • Speed: How quickly did the organization stand up and speak out?
  • Strength: How did the response impact the brand?
  • Purpose: Did the organization stay true to its corporate purpose?

The analysis looks at the need to prepare for the next mega societal crisis. “Imagining every conceivable societal crisis that might impact your brand and wreak havoc with every stakeholder audience should be on every CEO’s and CCO’s resolution list,” said Steve Cody, CEO, Peppercomm. “Believing that a traditional crisis plan will suffice in this new world of societal crises is akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.” 

So, who made the list? (Click here for accompanying infographic)



  • Sanofi/Ambien: After Roseanne Barr blamed its drug Ambien for a racist tweet, manufacturer Sanofi offered one of the year’s best rebukes.
    Speed 5 | Strength 5 | Purpose 5


  • Dick’s Sporting Goods: In the aftermath of the Florida high school shooting, the brand stopped selling assault-style rifles and raised the minimum age for gun purchases.
    Speed 4 | Strength 5 | Purpose 4


  • Starbucks: After two men were arrested at a Philadelphia location, the coffee giant closed all stores for a day of mandatory racial sensitivity training.
    Speed 4 | Strength 5 | Purpose 5


  • Delta: The carrier stood strong when Georgia lawmakers pulled a proposed jet-fuel tax break when it dropped NRA member discount.
    Speed 4 | Strength 5 | Purpose 5


  • Nike: When the sportswear goliath featured Colin Kaepernick in its campaign, reactions were swift.
    Speed 3 | Strength 5 | Purpose 5




  • Planned Parenthood: The organization was accused of discriminating against pregnant employees in violation of state and federal laws.
    Speed 0 | Strength 0 | Purpose -5


  • McKinsey: The consultancy took heat for supporting the Saudi regime.
    Speed 1 | Strength 0 | Purpose 2


  • NRA: After coming under attack for its response to Parkland, the organization launched ads attacking the credibility of shooting survivors.
    Speed 5 | Strength 0 | Purpose 5


  • CBS: CEO Les Moonves was ousted after six women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. The media giant was painted with the same brush.
    Speed 1 | Strength 3 | Purpose 2


  • Papa John’s: Its board reacted a day late and a dollar short after a recording revealed the founder used the n-word.
    Speed 2 | Strength 4 | Purpose 3



Steve Goodwin, Principal and Chief Brand Architect of BrandFoundations added: “It’s no longer acceptable to stand on the sidelines and hope that this, too, shall pass. The smartest organizations are those that have identified every conceivable societal crisis, devised strategies for the unexpected, and, have stress tested a real-world societal crisis.”

About BrandFoundations

BrandFoundations transforms brands into drivers of organizational strategy, development and culture. We build “brand platforms” -– a foundation of authentic values, stories and messages that articulate why a company exists beyond products, features and profits. Visit

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