When Bad Things Happen to Good Brands


For brands, surviving a crisis means more than just getting through the initial firestorm. Brands need to understand what aspects of their brand’s reputation have been affected, in what ways, and how severely.

Using E-Score Brand we analyzed three brands that have gone through significant crisis in recent years. We looked at how they were affected, and how they responded to the crisis. One theme we noticed was that visual aids, such as photos and especially video, can act as crisis “accelerants.” We will be measuring these brands again in August to see how they have, or have not, been impacted by recent crisis management attempts.

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United: Reputation Under Assault

The recent cell phone video of a passenger forcibly removed from a United Airlines plane, and the company’s reaction, are the latest examples of a brand PR crisis accelerated by a visual aid. We measured the consumer response shortly after the incident. Major damage to the brand’s image and perception are already apparent.


  • Before the April 2017 PR crisis, United had very strong Appeal among 25% of consumers. Since then, that number has dropped eight points.
  • Feelings of disdain grew greatly from pre-crisis measurements, as consumers with negative feelings toward the brand grew from 22% to 55% in our post-crisis survey.
  • Consumers are upset at the handling of United’s recent crisis with 25% of consumers saying the company is Offensive, compared to just 2% prior. Additionally 30% have said they would never use the airline in the future.

SeaWorld: A Whale-Sized Crisis

While United Airlines’ crisis is the result of a spontaneous incident caught on camera, SeaWorld’s crisis was accelerated by a fully produced documentary in 2013. Looking at E-Score Brand we saw a significant decline in consumer sentiments about the brand shortly thereafter. However, as SeaWorld has made some substantial announcements regarding their Orca program, the story is improving somewhat.


  • The 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish negatively impacted SeaWorld’s attendance, revenue, and consumer sentiments.
  • Our 2016 measurement saw the theme park’s Appeal and various other attributes drop below even 2014 levels following the crisis. This may be due in part to SeaWorld being cited in 2015 for safety issues involving orca trainers.
  • Our 2017 fielding shows SeaWorld on the rebound as Appeal and other attributes are slowly climbing back up, possibly connected to the 2016 announcement to end orca breeding and phase out performances.

Chipotle: Contaminated by Crisis

Chipotle’s food safety crisis proves the effect of visual crisis accelerants in the opposite way. There were no videos or photos showing disgusting food or conditions. The Chipotle situation also underscores the need for good crisis management strategy, and understanding what your consumers are saying.


  • Although it started in Seattle in July 2015, our August survey from that year did not indicate a crisis was already underway. This is due in part to several factors: there was no shock video or photos; consumers thought the outbreak was isolated; and low publicity in early days of the crisis.
  • The consumer comments from the August 2015 fielding made no mention of food poisoning, but by our 2016 survey, significant concerns were being expressed as the word slowly got around in social media.
  • As of our most recent survey, Chipotle is still feeling the backlash from the food contamination outbreak in 2015 with Appeal and other key attributes down considerably compared to pre-crisis measures.


When brands face a crisis, it is important to navigate the storm of public opinion and restore confidence in the brand. E-Score Brand aids brands in navigating crisis by helping them understand consumer sentiments before, during and after a crisis. This allows brands to get the real picture and customize an action plan influenced by measurable attributes, and specific feelings expressed by consumers, rather than the noise of internet pundits and “hot takes.”

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Data Source: E-Score Brand; “Pre-Crisis” represents a fielding prior to April 2017 incident. Dislike = Bottom 3 box:”Dislike A Lot/Dislike/Dislike Somewhat.


Data Source: E-Score Brand; “Early Crisis” represents early 2014 fielding. “Post Crisis” represents fielding after compliance setback in 2015. Dislike= Bottom 3 Box: Dislike A Lot/Dislike/Dislike Somewhat.


Data Source: E-Score Brand. “Pre-Crisis” represents a fielding prior to food contamination outbreak in 2015. “Crisis” represents a fielding in 2015 shortly after start of crisis. Dislike = Bottom 3 Box: Dislike A Lot/Dislike/Dislike Somewhat.


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United in Crisis.png SeaWorld Crisis Navigation.png Chipotle Crisis.png


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