AutoZone: Can bad headlines burnish brands?
March 10th, 2023, Clifton Mark

AutoZone: Can bad headlines burnish brands?

Car parts chain AutoZone has been in the headlines a lot lately, and the news has not been good. On February 13, suspects shot a security guard during an attempted robbery at an AutoZone location in Maryland. The next day, a man robbed a franchise in Lincoln, Nebraska, at knifepoint. That weekend in Illinois (February 19), a woman ran into an AutoZone location, told the cashier that she was being held against her will, then was dragged away by a man in a black jogging outfit. This is not to mention two bodies found dead behind a Las Vegas AutoZone on the 20th and a man sentenced on February 15th for robbing an AutoZone in Nashville and attempting to run over an employee with his vehicle.

One might expect that these grisly associations to drag the AutoZone brand down, yet YouGov BrandIndex indicates this may not always be the case. BrandIndex is a tracker that monitors brand health across 16 metrics. The table below shows AutoZone’s brand health climbing rapidly despite a month of horrific headlines.

Index is a composite metric of overall brand health. As the chart shows, AutoZone’s Index rises throughout the period of the reported crimes and violent incidents. On February 13, the day the Maryland robbery and shooting was reported, AutoZone’s Index was 26.7. From that stage it rises steadily to reach a high of 33.3 by March 3. AutoZone’s Index score improved 6.6 points during the period of the crimes cited above.

Further, this rise was not driven simply by negative word-of-mouth and notoriety. The brand’s Impression score, is a net score created by subtracting the percentage of respondents who report a negative feeling from those who report a positive feeling, providing a measure of how positive brand sentiment is among respondents. During the same period, AutoZone’s Impression score rose 8.1 points from 33.5 to a high of 41.4. Despite a series of news items that are the opposite of “feel-good stories” covering AutoZone locations across the US, consumers report ever-warmer sentiment for the auto-parts shop. Even the proportion of consumers who would consider purchasing the brand rose from 29.2% to 35.3% during the same period.

While this remarkable rise in AutoZone’s brand health coincides with several very negative news stories associated with the brand, it is not necessarily a case of “any publicity is good publicity.” It may be that the brand is performing well for other reasons. The chain announced 200 new stores last year and the AutoZone stock has done well in February, both of which may have contributed to the brand. Also, the negative stories may not have achieved enough cut-through to hurt AutoZone’s image. In any case, AutoZone’s rising metrics through February shows even bad headlines will that being the site of horrific violence will not necessarily deter consumers from shopping with a favored brand.

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Methodology: YouGov BrandIndex collects data on thousands of brands every day. A brand’s Ad Awareness score is based on the question: “Which of the following consumer brands have you seen an advertisement for in the past two weeks?” Data from surveys of adults aged 18 years and above residing in Canada from January 26 and February 23, 2022. Ad Awareness scores are based on a four-week moving average. The change in scores for each brand is calculated by taking the difference between the highest and lowest scoring days within the period. Learn more about BrandIndex.   

Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash