How many times can you dent a brand before it starts looking damaged?

Smashburger scrawls an invitation to kids to drink beer!

Starbucks typically receives 300 Benjamins in a transaction!

Thanks to our friend the internet, we’ve all enjoyed FAILs. Lots of them.

Interestingly enough, the FAILs internet folk catch often have to do with restaurants.

I think that’s because restaurants have to talk to you, woo you, constantly engage you with words and photos and graphics to keep you trying their newest, or not forgetting what they’re best at, or whatever. And there are so many links in that communications chain, so many humans, the weakest are bound to put the wrong words and pictures together poorly in contexts that don’t match the brand standards.

It’s human. We all get it.

But how many times can it happen before that IS your brand? And can some brands withstand it better than others?

I maintain that the QSR restaurants can endure a whole lot more FAIL than some places because we all get that the restaurant is staffed by a weary manager and beleaguered shift supervisors trying to control a mostly apathetic workforce just earning a little spare change to put in their gas tanks until they get a better job.

That’s what makes “coning” funny: we know those people are barely hanging on as it is.

My feeling is, QSR can endure some crude communications episodes and nobody really holds them accountable. And if there is a Burger King or Wendy’s near your house that’s impeccably run, well, you notice. You say to your friend you’re there with, “Y’know? This is a really nice Wendy’s” as if you’ve run across a remarkable, rare, admirable, surprising, lovely find.

The typical QSR restaurant is like a big SUV. If there’s a dent here or there, it just looks like it’s been in action. Until it starts to look like crap—I guess I’m not arguing that QSR shouldn’t try to look nice. But they can withstand, I think, some imperfections.

Now, let’s think about that Smashburger Miller Lite Kids [sic] Night. And that Starbucks clip art showing some thirsty big-tipper forking over $300. I think those dents stand out big time, like a scrape on a Lexus fender. They hurt. I have opinions about those restaurants (I’m including Starbucks as a restaurant here) that allow me to feel comfortable paying higher prices.

When they look human, and achieve the FAIL, it makes a big difference to me. I’m sort of paying for them to keep a tighter control on their brand, on their consistency. And according to Starbucks most recent earnings, I’m not alone.

(Thanks to my friend Adam for the beer card photo; I took the Starbucks temporary trailer signage my own self.)