How Sharia law is taking a bite out of a major brand

The Dorchester Collection, one of the world’s most high-end hotel brands, is experiencing what we call a brandtastrophe this week. The Sultan of Brunei owns the lux hotel chain, and this week he announced his intention to establish Sharia criminal law in his home country, which will punish adultery, theft, and same-sex relationships with flogging, amputation, and stoning, respectively. Not exactly a great PR move, especially considering the Dorchester brand is firmly rooted in the Western World (locations include London and Beverly Hills, among others) where parts of Sharia law are widely viewed as archaic. The announcement has spurred international condemnation of the sultan and several large-scale boycotts of the Dorchester brand by the Virgin Group, the Hollywood Reporter, and others.

Christopher Cowdray, Dorchester Collection CEO, issued a statement attempting to ease the growing boycott. “Today’s global economy needs to be placed in a broader perspective. Most of us are not aware of the investors behind the brands that have become an integral part of every day life, from the gas we put in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to the way we use social media, and to the hotels we frequent. American companies across the board are funded by foreign investment, including sovereign wealth funds.” Which begs the question, “Does it matter when a brand is associated with objectionable policies that are being implemented a world away?” Mr. Cowdray doesn’t think so.

But, we say yes, it absolutely does matter.In today’s world, conscientious consumers are in the driver’s seat like never before as social media and other user-driven websites have amplified their reach and power exponentially. This amplification means companies and their brands must behave like responsible global and social citizens.

In this age of transparency, perception is key. Company leaders truly need to be aware of the impact negative publicity can have on their brands―and how many people it can now reach (note to Chip Wilson formerly of Lululemon, Donald Sterling, and others). For the Dorchester brand, the reaction to the sultan and the CEO is a prime example of how what a brand says or does influences consumer choice in the modern age. Pre-Internet, the implementation of such laws, half-way around the world, would have made the papers or the nightly news, but direct impact on the hotels themselves would have been limited. Present day, the story is everywhere, putting the Dorchester on the negative side of public opinion on a very large scale and directly linking human rights violations to the brand.

In light of these events, the Dorchester Collection isn’t merely seen as a luxury hotel group anymore, it’s now viewed as a brand with ties to a repressive regime. Influencers, consumers, and others who are managing their own brands will be mindful of this association and will avoid doing business with them. A hard lesson to learn, but one we’ve seen play out over and over again.

To learn more about our 40 years’ experience in brand strategy and management visit our website.

Deanna Seitz is Monigle’s Content Creator. She’s a keen observer of brandtastrophes and brand impact the world over.

Connect With Us

May 7, 2014 By Monigle