THURSDAY 13 DEC 2012 2:06 PM


Fact: Starbucks, Google and Amazon got slammed in the press for paying a nominal amount of corporate tax in Britain. Fact: customers boycotted Starbucks and lobbied the coffee giant to right their perceived wrongs. Fact: Starbucks issued a letter to customers stating it would voluntarily pay more tax. Fact: Google has likened it’s avoidance of corporate tax as just good capitalism and has refused to pay any unmandated taxes.

The facts that don’t add up for three of the world’s most beloved brands are how the ongoing tax scandal has impacted each company’s reputation. Starbucks, which has been all but forced to publicly apologise, has conceded an additional £10 million. Google has faced virtually no opposition in the public and Amazon has skated by under the radar.

“This to me is an issue of which brand is demonstrating conscious leadership,” Erika Uffindell, CEO of Uffindell Group, a brand and reputation consultancy, says. “Whether or not Starbucks fears reputation loss and therefore has to act, or Google doesn't believe it has to act because it's brand is strong enough to withstand consumer backlash, the question is which brand is reflecting best that it is in tune with society, that it is listening, showing humility and being open in it's communication. Clearly by the way it's leadership has responded to date, this is Starbucks.”

In terms of public perception, Starbucks has clearly taken a hit. It’s BrandIndex rating has plummeted. It’s public explanation was a direct response to consumer and employee feedback. But it’s high-profile communications have begun to rectify any losses in reputation.

That leaves Google and Amazon – both are digital products that have an omnipresence in bookmarks and desktops, but not in bricks and mortar. Websites may be more easily forgiven than brands that make up part of the daily fabric of the British high street. Until there is public outcry to boycott Google or stop buying Christmas presents on Amazon (online accounts for 46% of holiday shopping), the online brands may avoid a similar reputational dive to that which Starbucks has taken.

But, Uffindell says that situation Starbucks has found itself in is disappointing, yet it has learned from its public relations errors and has attempted to communicate its actions to its audience most effectively of the three companies involved.

“How refreshing for a brand to come clean with a sense of humility and humanity,” she adds.