Brand Disloyalty: Successful, rich, but still unpopular

Andrew Tuck on six brands that have our cash, but not our hearts
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The Independent Online

THE COMPANIES WE LOVE TO HATE

TESCO

Why do they have a bad reputation?

Tesco dominates our high streets and is taking a beating for the demise of independent food retailers. There is also unease at the strict deals all supermarkets offer suppliers. Tesco announced profits of £2.2bn last week and plans to open another 130 stores.

What are they doing about it?

Chief executive Terry Leahy seems to take the view that Tesco is successful because people like it. It gives robust responses to criticisms made by the likes of Greenpeace, which has claimed the supermarket pays low prices for milk, fails to support British farmers and damages our market towns.

What do they really need to do?

Tesco and other supermarkets are threatened with a Competition Commission inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading because of soaring store numbers. The big supermarkets may find they were unwise to ignore campaigners fighting for independent retailers if the issue is picked up by politicians.

NIKE

Why do they have a bad reputation?

Nike stands accused of sourcing its shoes and clothing from factories in the Far East where workers are made to endure conditions that would not be tolerated in the West and paid derisory wages. Although these may meet the legal minimum, they are often insufficient to support a family.

What are they doing about it?

Last year, Nike investigated its suppliers and found widespread problems, including physical and verbal abuse in a quarter of its south-east Asian plants. Many workers suffered low wages and long hours, and were punished for refusing overtime.

What do they really need to do?

Nike talks about an "evolving situation" and has said: "Non-governmental organisations, trade unions, students and academicians, shareholders and others have taught us a great deal about how best to live up to our company values; we want to continue learning."

IKEA

Why do they have a bad reputation?

Just the thought of visiting Ikea can make people take to their beds in a sweat. The problem? Ikea has won itself a reputation for wretched service and failing to get orders correctly delivered. Some design snobs, as parodied in the store's ads, also loathe the products.

What are they doing about it?

The company is spending £150m on improving its UK stores. It has introduced more express check-outs and will no longer ban you from taking your trolley to your car. A store spokesman said, "We realised people took offence at being herded around like sheep." No way, Sherlock.

What do they really need to do?

Some people won't be happy unless the company is closed down. But let's be fair, Ikea has positive environmental projects which have won approval from the likes of Greenpeace. It also makes OK cheap furniture. But service still needs to be improved. And as for those flatpack instructions...

MICROSOFT

Why do they have a bad reputation?

Microsoft is perceived to be too powerful. Around the world, courts have taken action to curtail what is seen as the firm's monopolistic tendencies. Microsoft is battling to overturn a £344m European Commission fine for alleged anti-trust abuses.

What are they doing about it?

The company gets great PR from its donations of cash and technology to good causes. And, from disease research to education, founder Bill Gates is a generous benefactor. Microsoft claims it uses its muscle to give stuff for free, from browsers to Hotmail.

What do they really need to do?

To get the technical critics off its back, Microsoft would need to somehow supply more secure software. Worms and viruses are all too common with programmes such as Outlook Express.But its global domination would have to end for government legislators to start loving Microsoft.

BP

Why do they have a bad reputation?

Drivers angered by risingprices eye the huge profits (£11bn last year). Green groups criticiseeverything from oil spills to a failure to promote clean technology. Human rights groups say it puts profits before people, especially in developing nations. Slated by Tibetans for working with Chinese.

What are they doing about it?

It is investing $8bn over the next 10 years to develop low-carbon fuels, and it is also encouraging people to look at ways of reducing their "carbon footprint". The company also supports numerous education projects around the globe and says it it keen to help promote sustainable development.

What do they really need to do?

Volatile oil prices, threats to Middle Eastern supplies, melting ice caps... BP, and all oil companies, are set to suffer numerous assaults over the coming years. But there is common ground - we all want secure supplies of cleaner fuels, as soon as possible. It is a challenge they will have to take up.

RYANAIR

Why do they have a bad reputation?

A recent edition of Channel 4's Dispatches showed dirty planes, staff asleep on duty, and claimed a plane took off with a faulty door. The company has also upset disabled groups, such as when it made blind people get off a plane claiming they were a breach of safety standards.

What are they doing about it?

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary and his company seem to take the criticism in their stride - while vigorously denying any wrong-doing. They seem unlikely to change their business model: last year they transported more than 24 million passengers, a record for Ryanair.

What do they really need to do?

Employ Stelios? While Ryanair is run on tight profit margins and makes mistakes, the same could be said for easyJet. The difference is that easyJet boss Stelios is a PR dream: friendly and one of the people, which makes us happier to forgive his firm.

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