Vivaldi CEO on United’s Scandal & Impossible Brand Recovery

It has been a historically bad month for United Airlines and its brand.

The company encountered a public relations disaster this week when a man was filmed being dragged from a plane to make room for crew members who needed seats. In the days following, the company’s consumer perception levels dropped to their lowest levels in 10 years, according to YouGov BrandIndex, consumer perception research firm. It could take at least two years to recover, maybe as many as 10 — or even more, says Erich Joachimsthaler, chief executive of global brand strategy consulting firm Vivaldi.

Based on interviews with 4,800 people per day, the YouGov BrandIndex score ranges from minus 100 to 100 with a zero score equaling a neutral position. United Airlines’ UAL, +0.96%  score was 3 on April 8, a relatively benign score before the videos of the man being dragged from his seat by airport police at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with a bloodied face were posted. As of April 14, the score was minus 40. United’s chief executive Oscar Munoz apologized several times for the fiasco and told ABC News he felt “shame” over the incident.

But Joachimsthaler said it won’t be that easy to erase the image. “The doctor’s lawyers will try very hard to keep the story alive over the next year or so,” he said. “The more the lawyers can position United as the villain, the better it is for the legal case or settlement.” But he said some brands that are “authoritative leaders” have a harder time recovering. “Several studies have shown that even over two years, the brand does not restore its original brand perceptions,” he added.

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