Marketing Misc

An A to Z of Modern Marketing

T is for Toxic

Is your brand really toxic?


Toxic is today’s go-to word to describe a brand that’s in deep trouble.


Pay day lenders, football tournaments, political parties or even soap stars have found themselves in the brand doghouse with the now familiar screaming yellow hazard triangle flashing on the kennel door.


After all, the whole point of marketing is about creating and sustaining customer relationships, not destroying them. But toxic relationships are virulent these days: remember when Britney sang, “A guy like you should wear a warning. Don’t you know that you’re toxic?”


The word ‘toxic’ has ancient roots originating in the battles between Greeks and Persians when archers were prized for their long-distance offensive capabilities. To incapacitate or kill their opponents, archers often dipped their arrowheads in poison. Toxicon was the Greek word for bow-drug and so, by extension, toxic became the adjective that describes anything that is poisonous, harmful and dangerous. Today, think drinking water, atomic waste and industrial smog.


It is now often used figuratively as well: toxic can describe an asset with little or no value, for example a bad debt that is unlikely to be repaid. Toxic has also become a voguish word to describe the results of careless marketing where a brand or product causes unpleasant feelings or actual harm to customers, and thus succeeds in doing the opposite of what brands are supposed to do.


In the turbulent waters of social media, when a brand’s behaviour can be in the spotlight for what it’s done (or what it hasn’t done), being labelled a toxic brand can seem extremely dangerous. But whilst there are some examples of terminal self-harm, Ratners Jewellery being a case in point, most brands are remarkably resilient and can bounce back with surprising speed and strength.


So, to sound a reassuring note for brand owners currently under some toxic cloud, all is not lost. Antidotes and brand detox strategies are available. Like so many marketing clichés, the power of this particular poison is significantly lessened by its overuse.


Paul Christopher Walton




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