24 September 2015

When brand perceptions take a beating

Source: YouGov. Uniqlo brand perception in China. The turquoise graph is for 'purchase consideration', while the brown graph measures buzz. The black graph is about 'impression', and the red graph is the overall Index.

Source: YouGov. Word of mouth in Asia Pacific. The red graph represents China, the orange graph Japan. The blue graph represents Indonesia, and Thai sentiment is in turquoise. Singapore's feedback is in green and Malaysia's in purple. Singapore - with a majority Chinese population - generally talked about the incident the most of all the countries studied, though it was also a topic of interest in Thailand and Malaysia. Things are dying down somewhat in Malaysia and Thailand though not as much in Singapore.

What happens if a popular consumer brand receives negative publicity - not of its doing? YouGov, which crowdsources feedback to arrive at brand metrics, has been tracking fashion brand Uniqlo, which had an interesting July in 2015 with a sex-in-the-fitting-room scandal in China.

According to YouGov, an associated video became viral on Chinese social media, causing brand perception for Uniqlo by Chinese consumers to fall for multiple metrics from positive to negative. More than two months since the incident, YouGov's BrandIndex* continues to show that perception for the brand is still low and has not returned to positive territory.

The YouGov BrandIndex Impression metric in China shows that Uniqlo’s Impression score in China fell from a positive 20.2 points to -25.9 points at its lowest, and the residual effect has led to the score at -14.5 points on September 17. Uniqlo’s Buzz score has bounced back quite significantly from a low of -24.9 points, but is still negative at -7.6 points as of September 17. "This shows that this incident has long legs on how consumers perceive the brand," YouGov noted in a statement.

Fortunately, brand perception is not always tied to actual purchases. YouGov's Purchase Consideration metric for Uniqlo on its BrandIndex plummeted from 26.8 points before the incident to a low of 13.4 points a month after the incident, but is still positive. "This shows that even though perception from the brand is still low, consumers are still willing to purchase from Uniqlo," YouGov stated.

When considering the Uniqlo brand across the region (YouGov surveyed Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and China), YouGov said its Word of Mouth metric directly after the incident did spike, but not as prominently in other countries. The news had the lowest prominence in Japan, followed by Indonesia - both countries where most news is consumed in other languages.

Some conclusions:

  • Negative publicity is negative publicity, and steps should be taken to reduce the likelihood of a brand being associated with anything negative to protect its reputation. 
  • The brand suffers most where the incident happened, especially if it doesn't affect other countries. 
  • If the fundamentals of the brand are solid, it will continue to draw sales, though not as much as before.
  • The brand does recover over time, but not quickly. 


Read the WorkSmart Asia blog post about YouGov's take on body confidence
Read the Suroor Asia blog post about Uniqlo's modest wear collection

*The YouGov BrandIndex is a daily consumer perception research service of brands. For China, the BrandIndex analyses 520 interviews conducted daily from a representative Chinese population sample. Respondents are drawn from an online panel of more than 30,000 individuals in China.