Ketchup, Porn and Brand Reputations

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-07-10 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Damage to Brands

Year ago, executives worried that their company name would be used incorrectly in print. Now, a brand can be torpedoed by digital communications in nanoseconds.

One of the more amusing stories that hit the newswire recently was word that Heinz slapped an out-of-date QR code on its ketchup bottles in Europe. Scanning the code popped up a porn Website.

A German man, Daniel Korell, spotted the faux pas and reported it to the company via its Facebook page. Nevertheless, the embarrassing event has become a darling of the news media. Ironically—or perhaps not—the product involved was "Heinz Hot."

Heinz isn't the first company to play catch-up after a QR code expired. (And, to its credit, the company handled the incident well). One of the problems with any domain—and a QR code simply loads a site—is that the registration can lapse and leave a company in the lurch.

Of course, the problem doesn't stop there. Since the dawn of the Web, cyber-scum have used misspellings and similar names to direct traffic to their sites—essentially by luring people who make a mistake while typing or are confused about a brand name. In some cases, these online con artists are hawking porn, while in other instances, they're spreading malware.

Likewise, companies and celebrities increasingly find that it's necessary to buy up potentially embarrassing porn domains, as well as other names and domains that might represent a slur against a company or an individual. For instance, when new top-level domains and site names became available in May, Paris Hilton began buying up the likes of ParisHilton.porn, and Taylor Swift bought TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult.

These preemptive strikes are now part of the mainstream Internet economy. Unfortunately, attempting to evict a cyber-squatter can result in a protracted and expensive legal battle.

A couple of decades ago, executives worried that their company name would be used incorrectly in print. In those quaint days, a corporate legal team scoured magazines and newspapers for transgressions, such as using kleenex instead of Kleenex.

Today, a brand can be torpedoed by the seemingly vague and at times nefarious forces of digital communication in a matter of nanoseconds. No less frightening is the fact that the number of vectors has grown exponentially.

The takeaway? It's wise to make sure your Websites and QR codes are valid and won't expire anytime in the near future. Also, snap up any harmful domain names, and thoroughly and regularly test anything and everything involving your brand and digital communication.

If you don't, your company may wind up with a problem it doesn't particularly, ahem, relish.



 
 
 
 
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
 
 
 
 
 
 

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