Ads can't save bad brands

I went to see the play Enron last night in London. To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the show but one scene really stuck with me. As the second act started, they played this Enron TV spot:

For those of you who remember, Enron was the company that set records. The most well-known being the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US. Thousands of workers were laid off, lost all their stock and were essentially ruined by a tight group of senior management who developed new 'products' that cheated the financial system.

What interested me most, though, wasn't the scandal or the corruption. But the ad.

To be honest, the spot reminded me a lot of Apple's iconic Think Different. It's well-written and has a montage featuring normal people and brilliant ones. When I watched it last night for the first time, I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone watching this in 2000.

If you were just graduating from a top US school, looking for work and saw this spot, you'd probably consider Enron. You'd want to know more and (based on their successful financial earnings at the time), you'd probably want to work there and get a ton of stock options.

It's ads like these that get people into these brands. Nobody really knew how flawed Enron was - the agency that made this spot certainty didn't - but the ads helped keep the brand afloat. It was the idea that they were successful that kept the brand alive for so long. Not just the fake earnings sheets or the profit reports, but the belief that everyone involved with the company couldn't do any wrong.

We all want strong brands. Just remember that ads can't save bad companies. In fact, they can protect them. But only for so long...