When research firm Leger conducted its annual survey of brand reputation in Canada in February, Boeing was doing all right. The company had 82-per-cent awareness among Canadians polled. And while just 41 per cent felt they knew the brand well enough to provide an opinion, most of them – 34 per cent over all – rated the brand positively.

But after news broke in March of the second fatal crash of the company’s 737 Max 8 aircraft in just six months – causing governments and airlines around the world to ground the planes – researchers decided they needed to go back into the field. They found that Boeing’s image had taken a major hit. The percentage of people with a negative opinion of the brand shot up to 30 per cent in March, from just 9 per cent the month before.

“Boeing can come back, but they need to correct this,” Leger executive vice-president Dave Scholz said.

The aviation company is not the only one that has been hit hard by negative headlines in the past year.

For example, Facebook saw the biggest drop in its reputation score out of the 263 companies in the study, falling from 61 to 22. (Leger calculates each company’s score by subtracting the percentage of negative opinions from the percentage of positive ones. The survey of roughly 30,000 Canadians measures brands on both overall awareness and perception among consumers.)

Concerns about Facebook’s management of user data have been percolating for a few years, but Leger’s most recent study saw a dramatic decrease in the brand’s reputation score.

“It’s almost like they haven’t had a chance to breathe,” Mr. Scholz said. “… Mistake after mistake after mistake is hard to come back from. It’s starting to add up.”

Other brand-reputation scores that decreased significantly included Canada Post, which faced a strike late last year, disrupting some parcel deliveries just in time for the holidays; Greyhound, which cancelled most of its bus routes in Western Canada in the fall; and General Motors, which has faced a backlash following its decision to close its Oshawa, Ont., plant after 100 years of manufacturing there. This was the first year that the Leger study looked at Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which has been affected by cybersecurity concerns over its building of 5G networks, as well as a dispute between Canada and China over the arrest of one of its top executives at the request of the United States. Despite Huawei’s marketing push in Canada, it had the lowest score of any company in the survey, with 14 per cent of respondents saying they have a good opinion of the brand and 24 per cent saying they have a bad opinion.

Recovery is possible, however. In last year’s survey, Tim Hortons slipped out of the top 10 for the first time in more than a decade, amid a dispute with its franchisees and heavy cost-cutting by its parent company, as well as negative publicity over how some franchisees responded to the minimum-wage increase in Ontario. The donut-and-coffee chain has not regained a spot at the top this year, but did see an eight-point increase in its score. The improvement shows the importance of building awareness, Mr. Scholz said, which can help a brand bounce back after a setback.

“They’re able to recover because they’ve had such a good reputation over the years,” he said.

The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2019