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Good and Bad PR year-end review: ISRO, Apple, Barbenheimer fly high in 2023 , but it's a resounding thud for Byju's, Adani, Dukaan

We're back with the Good PR/Bad PR highlights. There's a slight difference; we're doing a 2023 year-at-a-glance

Shoeb Shaikh, Ideosphere picks Good and Bad PR of 2023

feature for you this week. Back in the new year, with the freshest hot takes in reputation and brand PR soon.

Good PR

ISRO - To the Moon and Back

"Ab hum keh sakte hain, Chanda mama ghar ke." The bumbling Hindi commentary on the ISRO live telecast of the Chandrayaan 3 landing marked a new chapter in the annals of Indian space missions and will inspire future generations. 

After the previous failed mission, and against all odds, ISRO delivered when it mattered. Social media rightly celebrated the victory of science loudly and proudly. 

Pages have chronicled the technical aspects, and poems have romanticised what it means for India to be on the moon—ISRO is my pick for who should win the brand of the year in India for 2023.

Apple - Job Well Done

Apple launched the first of its fabled stores in India. Many affluent Indians who had only experienced the magic of the Apple Stores abroad have stories to tell describing the superior customer experience a visit entails. In 2023, we got to experience the magic first-hand (at least in Mumbai and Delhi). 

The power of the cult usually comes to the fore during occasions like this - the serpentine lines outside the store on launch day proved that the Apple brand has its many takers in the country, fast-growing as a manufacturing hub for the company as well. 

Tim Cook's visit, curated with laser precision, included moments with the top business leaders, government officials and even a desi fast food tete-a-tete with Madhuri Dixit Nene. 

We gave them something back as well. Tim's wide-eyed surprise when designer Sajid Moinuddin walked up to the storefront with an original '1984' was priceless. We're probably not going to get cheaper phones anytime soon, though.

Barbenheimer (Mattel) - The Year of the Pink/Bomb

Brand or corporate marketers should have learned much from this year's biggest box office clash - Barbie and Oppenheimer. The clash cleaved two rabidly different fan bases against each other, and many storylines, including feminism, history, and war, add to the layers. The product makers, in this case, the movie studios, stayed true to their themes.

Barbie added a breathtaking array of brand collaborations with Crocs, Burger King, Fossil, Pinkberry, Gap, and Aldo, to name just a few. Understandably, Oppie couldn't muster up the same brand value due to the theme of its story; instead, it banked on its maverick director, Nolan's aura of masterful cinema.

In the social media trenches, millions of Barbenheimer fans proved one thing - brands can be stronger together.

De-Influencers

Yeah, I know this is not a brand specifically, but after a nauseous half a decade of influencer influenza hitting humanity at its peak, we saw the rise of the anti-hero - the De-Influencer. 

Busting myths, debunking pseudo-science, and breaking taboos are all in the day's work for the good 'ol DI to bring some sanity to the world of the average social media user. Health and wellness, cryptocurrency, financial literacy and food were some areas where the impact of de-influencers made a splash in 2023. Brands sat up and took notice.

Mondelez sued a YouTuber to protect the narrative around the famous Bournvita brand. Himalaya Wellness went after a well-known hepatologist on X. At the very least, in 2023, marketers became very familiar with the Streisand Effect.

Bad PR

Yours Truly

First of all, I will begin with an apology to Mr. Narayana Murthy for not meeting my 70-hour quota/week enough this year. I promise to strive harder next year.

BCCI - Bitter Aftertaste

The pilgrimage came home after 12 years. The team responded with a performance for the ages minus one. The fans certainly played their part during the elongated tournament despite significant inconveniences. So what should have been a celebration of cricket, a homecoming, and a statement of intent for the larger interest of the sport (because we control it directly or indirectly) became a daily opera of mismanagement. 

An archaic booking policy robbed many international fans of the chance to plan their trips, which led to sparse crowds in neutral games. The various political undertones, infighting between associations for the right to host matches and then the heartbreaking final held in a city woefully unequipped to manage an event of this magnitude left a sour taste in the mouth.

Of course, having an off day and losing an important game is possible, but it is easier to play a gracious host and become a benchmark rather than a reviled poster child of incompetence.

Adani - Hinderburg Sized Fire

The Hindenburg Research report in January 2023 wiped off more than 10 lakh crore of market cap value from the Adani Group over allegations of accounting fraud and stock manipulation. 

The following uproar saw the Adani Group use nationalism as a fig leaf to avoid further scrutiny, reputation damage and financial loss. The communication modus operandi was clear from all participants - the media, business commentators and even the Government on occasion. 

 Various global agencies and governments have  either dismissed the original report or given it credence from their viewpoint. Being unable to tackle allegations from a small team of researchers for nearly a year, leading to a colossal financial and reputation loss, was not a good look for India's second-largest conglomerate.

Dukaan - HR pAIns

Suumit Shah, Founder/CEO of Dukaan, managed to do the impossible - unite all Twitter users. Er.. I mean X users. 

By announcing the deployment of AI bots to replace 90% of their customer support staff, he cemented his legend in the graveyard of leadership communication disasters. 

A stone-cold, emotionless announcement in a market already reeling from layoffs rightly led to calls for boycotts and for him to step down. It seems neither has materialized, but employer brand reputation damage is a cruel mistress. Startups that rely on the best talent to move ahead of the competition can ill-afford to seem distant from values that GenZ supposedly values more. At the very least, a nightmare SEO problem for Suumit to tackle. 

 And proving that either he has bad advisors or more likely he is just not listening, Shah was unrepentant.

BYJUs - Mortgaged Reputation

How does India's blue-eyed boy of EdTech, the champion in the 'March of Indian Unicorns', morph into its modern-day equivalent of Icarus? In a spectacularly bad year for any startup to endure, the Edtech company has seen many lows.

Missed interest and loan payments, allegations of foreign exchange violations, poor customer experience management and financial fraud are a damning laundry list of things to avoid. Flying high during the pandemic when education turned to digital for solace, to getting its valuation cut by more than 80% in April 2023 is undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow. 

The leadership did not inspire confidence in their sporadic attempts to defend the company, and the lack of a comeback plan was evident in all media narratives. Byju's has become the number pick of business and startup voyeurs soaking in its slow march towards doom. Putting it out of its misery would take more than an Edtech Gordon Gekko in 2024.

See this video by Firstpost to review the whole sorry story.

That's it for 2023 folks, see you back in 2024!

Shoeb is the director of brand content at Ideosphere Consulting. He loves helping brands and business leaders articulate their value better.

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