The 2021 Naughty and Nice Lists for Brands

RICHMOND, Va., Dec. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The world’s brands end up on Santa’s naughty and nice lists, too, thanks to the Brand Federation, a consultancy in Richmond, Va., led by recognized industry leaders Kelly O’Keefe and Matt Williams.

O’Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation, is formerly a professor and chair of the creative brand management program at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Williams, Brand Federation’s chief growth officer, is a Clinical Professor in the marketing department at the Mason School of Business at William & Mary and formerly CEO of the Martin Agency. They have spent their careers building and shaping some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Capital One, ESPN, GEICO, UPS, Walmart, and more.

“The challenges of 2021 presented brands incredible opportunities to step up beyond sales and marketing,” said O’Keefe, Brand Federation’s co-founder and CEO. “Many did, but many also earned coal in their stockings.”

Naughty list:

Despite claims of “reducing carbon intensity,” and investing in renewables, green groups, according to Reuters, found Chevron spent only 0.2% of its capital expenditures on lower-carbon energy sources. Brands, especially fossil fuel companies, need to play big roles in fighting climate change. Chevron is not.

Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is recognized as the model for brand behavior during a crisis (see New York Times’ Tylenol made a hero of Johnson & Johnson). But it lost its way this year. Facing consumer lawsuits claiming asbestos in J&J baby powder, the company pulled a fast one in Texas. It spun off a new company to hold all the asbestos-related liabilities. The new company then promptly filed for bankruptcy, severely curtailing efforts by consumers to recover damages. It’s a case study for extremely poor brand behavior.

The sandwich chain was dogged by questions about exactly what was in its sandwiches. Following up complaints, a New York Times investigation found that the tuna in Subway’s tuna sub… wasn’t really tuna. An independent lab found “no amplifiable tuna DNA in the samples.” (Other inquiries, however, did confirm the presence of tuna.) The fishy story followed one from last year in which an Irish court ruled Subway bread isn’t actually… bread.

For tolerating misinformation, undermining democracy, and putting children, especially girls, in danger. The naughtiest.

Elon Musk – the influential billionaire behind pioneering brands like Tesla and SpaceX has cultivated its own brand. Sadly, it’s more petulant than inspiring. Frequent Twitter wars, possible digital currency manipulation, and an apparent mean streak put him on the naughty list.

“We saw missteps this year, but also saw brands show us what’s possible, lift people up, and move us, however slightly, toward a better world,” Williams said.  

Nice list:

Despite its naughty founder, the transformational Tesla brand is leading the way to a more sustainable future. It’s driving acceptance of electric cars in the US, growing fast, and dominating U.S. electric vehicle sales. The uptake of EVs is still small, but Tesla and its hard- charging competitors are proving their viability. For the planet’s future, that’s nice.

Patagonia prioritizes the planet. The apparel company stopped adding corporate logos to its fleece vests, increasing their lifespan. Additionally, on Black Friday, the company donated the day’s $10 million in sales to environmental programs. The company stands up for its values in other ways, too, pulling its clothing from a Wyoming ski resort after it hosted a right-wing fundraiser with Marjorie Taylor Green in attendance. Nice!

Airbnb offered free temporary housing to 20,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. Founder Joe Gebbia said it was an “easy call” because of its generous host community and its history of supporting temporary accommodation needs. It’s an easy call to put brands that serve more than transactions on the nice list, too.

Uber and Lyft
With Texas law threatening legal action against anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft pledged to pay drivers’ legal fees if they’re sued. Lyft also donated $1 million to planned parenthood. Uber and Lyft let their employees and customers know where they stand on an issue that affects their business. That’s good brand strategy.

Both O’Keefe and Williams are available for interviews to discuss the Naughty and Nice Lists for Brands in 2021. Contact Christian Munson at (804) 441-8091 to arrange a call or virtual meeting.

About Brand Federation
With a network of more than 100 independent strategists and specialists, Brand Federation sharpens brands’ ability to differentiate, communicate, and influence. Its disciplined, research-backed, and collaborative approach to brand strategy results in unique positioning, clear messaging and powerful marketing. For more information, visit

Christian Munson, (804) 441-8091
[email protected]

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SOURCE Brand Federation

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