Top 5 2015 Brand Winners and Losers

By Dr. John Tantillo, - In Marketing

Pictures of some of the 2015 Brand Winners and Losers

The top 2015 brand winners and losers come down to two things: the importance of Target Market and the importance of brand to their respective customers.

We are reminded that no company or individual is ever all things to all people. What matters is that it does the right things to the right people. Here is the list:

2015 Brand Winners

Donald Trump

Picture of Donald Trump who has developed a easily recognizable Donald Trump Brand

Donald Trump

Whether you like him or not, Donald Trump must be considered a winner for his promotional skills. He consistently leads in most polls and is such a great entertainer that many sometimes forget that he is running for the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States. Trump is a great promoter. Some would argue that although he understands the promotional tactic of marketing brilliantly, he may not fully comprehend marketing as a discipline. Marketing is a strategy that includes so much more. It must incorporate promotion but also must utilize all tactics necessary to win votes. Scoring high in polls does not translate into votes. Ask anyone who was ahead in the polls only to lose on Election Day, e.g., Kentucky Senator McConnell’s 2014 challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes, who led in the polls in October only to lose badly in November. And to make matters worse, polls in primaries have an even worse track record when selecting winners.

The lessons we can learn from Brand Trump—be confident, passionate, yourself, confront the competition, and know your Target Market. And if one adopts these brand characteristics, who knows whether you too could run for president.

Image of a PDF downloadable mock up report of Donald Trumps Branding Strategies

Shake Shack

Picture of one of 2015's Brand Winners restaurant Shake Shack

Shake Shack

Kudos to this NYC based brand that made waiting in line for a hamburger the new status symbol for foodies, the social media minded, opinion aficionados, and worldwide investors. Motivating anyone to wait in line for a burger when they are so many choices deserves recognition from the brand aware and must be mentioned as a 2015 winner.

Since its beginning, Shake Shack has been one of the fastest-growing food chains. On January 29, 2015, Shake Shack priced its IPO at $21 per share. On the morning of January 30, it began trading on the NYSE at $47 per share, a 123% rise in just one day. This is marketing at its best, thanks to the restaurant promotional guru, Danny Meyer. With Meyer at the helm, investors could not get enough shares of this stock, much like Shake Shack patrons felt about their beloved 100% pure all-natural Angus Beef Burger.

With locations around the world, the future for the brand is most promising as long as customers are willing to spend significantly more time waiting for their burgers.

ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Let me start by stating that this by no means an endorsement of this terrorist organization. Branding is about knowing your customers and providing them with what they want. With this group’s proclamation of a worldwide caliphate in June 2014 with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph, the brand commenced its branding campaign. As a caliphate, it claims religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. The group has control over vast territories in Iraq and Syria  where it enforces Sharia law, and affiliates control small areas of Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, and operate in other parts of the world. From a branding perspective, ISIS is providing its target market with outcomes its followers (customers) want.

Brands lose their market share when competitors confront them with tactics that are effective. The biggest mistake that leading brands commit is underestimating the robustness of a rival. An example of this is our description of ISIS as the “JV team,” not a good prescription to deal with this rogue brand. The good news is that this can be countered with the right strategy that stabilizes its market share and even eliminates it over time.

In acknowledging that ISIS is a brand winner, one can then design a blueprint where one “plans the work and then works the plan” for brand dominance within the world market.


Picture of 2015 Brand Winner Adele


They say you have arrived when others refer to your brand by a single word reference. Adele, the English singer, and songwriter have done this, and more.

In October of this year, she released “Hello,”a video that was viewed more than 27.7 million times on YouTube in its first 24 hours, breaking the a record for the most views in a day, surpassing the 20.1 million views for “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. Also, 25, the album that includes “Hello,” became the 20th album to sell one million copies in a week and first album to sell more than three million copies in a week.

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Recently, Adele’s North American tour sold out in minutes with tickets on the black market going for thousands above the suggested retail value. Fans reported being on the internet for 45 minutes or more only to find that seats were sold out for major cities. A good thing if you are Adele, but not so good, if you are an Adele customer (fan).

These numbers speak for themselves and why Adele is a 2015 brand winner.

Tom Brady

Picture of 2015 Brand Winner Tom Brady

Tom Brady

The New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, who is considered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, is another 2015 brand winner.

On May 6, 2015, the NFL published a 243-page report regarding the deflation of footballs used in the AFC Championship game. The report determined that, more likely than not, Brady was at least aware of deflation. Some days later, the NFL suspended Brady for four games for his involvement based on “substantial and credible evidence” that Brady knew Patriots employees were deflating footballs and that he failed to cooperate with the investigators.

On July 28, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Brady’s suspension and the next day Brady criticized Goodell’s, stating  “I am very disappointed by the NFL’s decision … I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either … I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.”

In September, Brady’s suspension was overturned by Judge Richard M. Berman and Brady began play at the beginning of the NFL season. Lesson: when a brand’s integrity is at stake, it is recommended to fight for it so that long-term benefits will be maintained. Brady did this by his unwillingness to succumb to pressure and, which is why he is a brand winner in 2016.

2015 Brand Losers

American Politicians

Picture of 2015 Brand Loser American Politicians

American Politicians

Over the centuries, the hoi polloi have always had issues with politicians. For good reason, this year appears to be a stellar one for voters to be “angry as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

This anger with traditional political types has made newcomers—Trump and Ben Carson—more popular than the established brands, like Bush, Kasich, Rubio, and Cruz on the Republican side. The Democrats also have their issues. Bernie Sanders, a challenger to Hilary Clinton, with his European approach to government is also helping to feed this newfound opposition to the ruling elite. Trump, Carson, and Sanders have tapped into something that regular politicians seem to forget—marketing. And it is a basic tenet: it is not about you but all about your constituents. Good luck to those pols who fail to heed this new mainstream dictum.

Stephen Colbert

Picture of 2015 Brand Loser Stephen Colbert presenting his Colbert Report Show

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert is a brand who could do no wrong with his popular cable show. So it made sense for non-marketing oriented TV executives to choose him to take over from late night host David Letterman in September of this year. Yes, Colbert had a loyal niche market but the issue that every brand must face when trying to expand its market is how best to grow without alienating one’s current loyal customers. Well, it appears that Colbert has continued to keep his loyal audience but has failed to expand his reach to include conservatives—not a good thing in the world of network TV where eyeballs count. Recent ratings have indicated that conservatives have tuned out and that  Colbert’s ratings are not as strong as Letterman’s.

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Johnny Carson, the standard for late night TV hosts, would keep politics at a distance until it was time to weigh in. It was said that a politician would know trouble was ahead by the amount of time that Carson would take to lampoon him/her within his opening monolog. In addition, Carson was an equal opportunity offender and would poke fun at those from both sides of the aisle. To be successful, brands must satisfy the needs of all their customers. Otherwise, market share will be lost. Just how does Colbert achieve this? Easy— by satisfying the needs of his viewers and “funning” with all officeholders in a “fair and balanced” way. Oh yes, it is always easier when you have marketing in mind.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Picture of 2015 Brand Loser Chipotle Mexican Grill's Restaurant

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., the “uber popular” restaurant chain with locations in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France, which specializes in Mexican burritos and tacos, has a brand problem. The issue: customers are getting sick after eating at its stores.

Health complaints started back in July when an E. coli outbreak affected five persons. The problem was traced to a single Chipotle location in Seattle and that the incident was not publicized at that time. Subsequent issues with the chain were seen in August 2015 at a Simi Valley, California, location, and in Minnesota, where 17 Chipotle restaurants were called into question. In October 2015, 22 patrons were reported to have gotten sick after eating at several different Chipotle locations in the states of Washington and Oregon. In December 2015, 80 students at Boston College were sickened after eating at a single Chipotle restaurant.

The price of shares for Chipotle stock have dropped 20 percent since the initial announcement of the E. coli outbreak in late October. However, the real issue is how to resuscitate a brand whose reputation is now in question. Hiring a consultant to improve their food safety program and have their program reviewed by both the CDC and FDA is a start. Promoting this “commitment to quality” program to loyal customers is another, as well as offering incentives (cents-off coupons) to shape their customers’ behavior is another.

For the next few years, Chipotle needs to communicate its assurance that the health and safety of its valued customers are of utmost importance. This will take time, but with the correct marketing tactics, this brand should recover.

Apple Watch

Picture of the 2015 Brand Loser Apple Watch

Apple Watch

Yes, a loser despite all the hype that Apple has shipped more than seven million units since its debut in April of this year. In addition to this sales data hysteria, some have even mentioned that it is the second most smartwatch brand worn in the world. This is “PAP” at its best. And when all is said and done, it is the real world that counts when buying decisions are made. Looking beyond the puff and considering Apple’s decision to allow “Best Buy” to give a $100 discount on all Apple watches this holiday season—not a typical Apple tactic—sophisticated marketers want to know why.

Some “spin-meisters” say it is perhaps the rumors that Apple will launch its Watch 2 next spring. However, few industry insiders believe this to be true. Even the creative promotional idea of co-branding the watch with a brand like Hermes is a sign that all is not well in the land of Apple Watch.

The real issue from a branding perspective, and why the Apple Watch is a brand loser, is a battle between “watch wearers” versus “smart band enthusiasts.” The issue with the Apple Watch is that the unique “value functions” for customers are not specific for the Apple Watch. Other products in this space that are less expensive and provide the same applications, which is why the Apple Watch numbers are soft.

Branding is all about satisfying customers’ needs. When Apple decides for certain what needs their Watch (or smart band) uniquely satisfy their customers, perhaps we will see some real sales figures from Cupertino.

Ronda Rousey

Picture of 2015 Brand Loser Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey

The American mixed martial artist, judoka, actress and former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, who lost to Holly Holm on November 15th is a 2015 loser.

Ms. Rousey’s confidence was infectious. Her undefeated record included eleven victories in the first round, nine of them by “arm bar.” Few ever would have predicted that her challenger ever had a chance even though she too was undefeated with ten wins, seven by knockouts, three by decision.

The reason for this one-sided perception was Ms. Rousey’s self-assurance to anyone who would listen. With her personal charm, her tough life backstory, and her encouragement from her mother made her the “people’s choice” with mixed artist enthusiasts.

It is said that in politics, like any competition, it is always better to run as if you are losing than to underestimate your competition. Overconfidence is a surefire way to lose, and Ms. Rousey is another who lost to this lack of caution. Rousey knew how to promote her brand. Where she fell short is her belief that she need not worry about Holm. The lesson is to beware of hubris. It will hurt your brand and make you a brand loser. Ronda Rousey knows this now.

Branding Editor

Branding and Marketing Expert, Speaker, and teacher who writes about branding