With friends like this…

Businesses are usually delighted when we endorse their products and only too happy if we provide them with free publicity via our social networks. It seems somewhat strange, therefore, that French fashion brand Lacoste and the iconic American brand Abercrombie & Fitch have both recently been in the news for trying to stop people wearing their clothes.

The problem for Abercrombie was that one of their most high-profile ambassadors turned out to be none other than Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino from reality TV show Jersey Shore. Strangely, the Italian-American’s image didn’t fit with the values the Ohio-based lifestyle brand wanted to project. The spat is now at a stage where The Sitch’s lawyers are reported to be involved.

Abercrombie’s problems are put into perspective, however, by the PR embarrassment haunting Lacoste. Every time that spree killer Anders Behring Breivik travels to court in Norway, he seems to be sporting the apparel favoured for so long on the French Riviera. You may think there’s not a lot the brand managers can do about it, and you’d be right. According to news reports, they’ve been reduced to pleading with the Norwegian police to find the crazed gunman an alternative outfit.

These two related stories demonstrate the international nature of brands, of course, but also reveal something quite important for advertisers and marketing communications professionals. Brand owners have always deluded themselves about the extent to which they are in control of their property. In 2011, with instant communication, 24-hour rolling news formats, social networking and the ability of people to publish anything they like online, the consumers are firmly in the driving seat. If we leave them to their own devices, they can potentially warp and misinterpret our message to the market place. Yet if we intervene, the ensuing public relations fiasco can quickly overwhelm us. Now, that is a situation.