The negative aspects of your brand are just as important as the positive ones. Marketing missteps and managerial mistakes in the past should be embraced as learning opportunities, not errors. No company can ever be perfect, and forcing a squeaky-clean image of perfection on your brand can actually kill it - no one is perfect and no one will trust anyone or anything pretending to be so.
I try to refrain from discussing politics in this space, but Hillary Clinton has given us a perfect illustration of this point. Several times in the past she has referenced a trip to Bosnia as a key element of her foreign policy experience. However, her recollection of the event - landing under sniper fire and being forced to cancel the welcome party - has been proven recently to be untrue. Since then, she has been trying to ignore the issue and has instead dredged up the now cold issue of Barack Obama's former pastor.
Fortunately, people are typically willing to forgive inaccurate statements - if the party at fault admits the mistake, apologizes, and tries to move beyond them. Some people in similar situations in the past have even made jokes about their bad memories. The ones who, instead, ignore their mistake and try to shift the focus of conversation away from their faults tend to fail.
Nike, for a long, shady time, outsourced manufacturing to companies in Asia that relied heavily on sweatshops and child labor. When this nasty fact came to light, Nike first tried to hide from it. The problem immediately blew into public consciousness and Nike was forced into a many-year-long process of rebuilding their brand and reestablishing customer relationships. The ire over this problem is still present in many communities that to this day refuse to accept Nike's apology.
Take instead Bridgestone-Firestone's problem a few years ago with tires that fell apart under excessive stress. Unlike Nike, by the time the story broke, B-F had already begun its tire recall and had taken an apologetic position. All of the tires were replaced (for free!) within a year and, in a shorter time period than with the Nike fiasco, most people have already forgotten this ever happened.
It is easy to understand the position Nike took - moving to a new manufacturer would be costly, would take a great deal of time, and would exhaust many managerial resources. However, you must consider the cost Nike was forced to pay by not proactively addressing and reconciling this issue. Their brand equity plummeted quickly, driven downwards by negative images in the media and an overwhelmingly negative word-of-mouth propagated by many of their prized customers.
How could Hillary Clinton have better addressed her current situation? She could have acknowledged the mistake, apologized, and provided other examples of foreign policy experience. Instead, she quickly dismissed her own statements, blamed them on sleep deprivation, and moved to attack her opponent without actually acknowledging her mistake.
Will this hurt her popularity with the electorate (political capital and brand equity work in exactly the same way)? Will this cost her the nomination? I doubt we can even begin to guess on the second question, but I guarantee you there are managers at Nike shaking their head at another 'manager' failing to learn from their mistakes.
How would you have handled things differently? What is your overall opinion on the issue? Has your brand suffered the effects of negative brand equity? If so, what have you learned from the experience?