How to Cope with the Negative Face of a Brand

How to Cope with the Negative Face of a Brand

How to Cope with the Negative Face of a Brand

Reflect back to December where gifts and holidays are a commonality, however Target graced us with a disclosure that hackers stole credit and debit card information from millions of customers. Or travel back another three years to BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is recognized as the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Both BP and Target experienced the concept of negative face.

Face Negotiation Theory

This concept stems from Stella Ting-Toomey’s Face Negotiation Theory, as she described the concept of our self-image, or face. We all have a positive and a negative face, which is defined by our culture’s reaction. It could be something as little as not saying “thank you” to a generous donation or “accidentally” sneezing on someone to add to our negative face. In an individualistic culture like the United States, the perspective of face is reflective on the individual. So, in turn, the individual determines our positive and negative face (compared to a collective group).

This very concept is easily reflected within the core definition behind a brand. At its bare basics, a brand is the gut emotion evoked by the customer (best described by Marty Neumeier). So in turn,[inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”] the customer or individual determines the face of the brand, which can be a different evoked emotion for each individual.[/inlinetweet]

Now, let’s say the brand got itself into a pickle and is now reflecting a negative face to the customer. This could be something as little as posting a tweet linking to a disliked article or forgetting to send out a thank you letter to a recent client…or hackers and oil spills for Target and BP. Whatever the situation was, the brand is now stuck with this distasteful image.

Five Different Approaches

Ting-Toomey said there are five different approaches we take to save both our face and the face of the other in communication. We can dominate (win/lose), avoid (lose/lose), oblige (lose/win), compromise (lose/lose) or integrate (win/win). Obviously the best option from these is integration. This is simply by recognizing there’s a conflict amongst both parties and agree to resolve the problem together.


So in the brand’s recent situation with the negligence of a thank you letter, they would contact the client and meet with them to formally apologize. Both parties will discuss any issues and integrate a new solution together.

Target responded with integration, resorting back to its positive face by providing coupons for customers and then also hiring a new security chief six months after the incident. For BP, despite their efforts to remove the oil and their negative face, there is still some left today. The company responded with providing $500 million towards the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative: a 10-year independent research program.

The key behind a brand’s positive face or image is connected engagement with the audience, as well as being consistent with each individual’s evoked emotions.

However, [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”]we’ll all come across moments of negative face and when that happens remember to integrate and communicate. If we don’t, then we’ll be stuck with a distasteful image.[/inlinetweet]



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