No matter what industry a company is in, its most important asset is its reputation. Companies can spend millions of dollars each year on public relations, advertising, and brand research. A scandal, failed product rollout, or any misstep that draws the public’s ire can cost businesses millions, or even billions, of dollars.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed major news events from the last year, customer survey results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, ratings on employee review website Glassdoor, and more, to determine America’s most hated companies.
Many of the companies on this list are in sectors that are generally more disliked. Airlines and cable companies are among the most widely despised industries, so it makes sense that the least liked companies in these areas will rank as the least liked companies overall.
Other companies made the list because of the conduct of its leadership teams. Throughout 2018, numerous corporations had the bad behavior of those in upper management exposed. In some cases, corporations concealed important information about the company from investors and consumers. In others, employees came forward as part of the #MeToo movement and exposed cultures of sexual harassment by powerful corporate executives.
To identify the most hated companies in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction, brand value, and financial performance. We considered consumer surveys from a number of sources, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). We also considered large declines in a brand’s value from sources like BrandZ and Interbrand. We also reviewed employee satisfaction based on worker opinion scores on Glassdoor — this is not a Glassdoor commissioned report. We also accounted for current events that have impacted the public’s perception of the companies.
In the past year, a string of public relations disasters hit social media giant Facebook. Political research firm Cambridge Analytica was improperly given access to the data of as many as 87 million users as it worked alongside the Trump campaign. Numerous stories have since trickled out about how the social media site mishandled the ways foreign countries used misinformation to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Facebook took more heat when another investigation revealed that the company contracted another firm to research and attack Facebook critic and liberal mega-donor George Soros. Soros has been a target of numerous conspiracy theories — many of which have been widely shared on Facebook.
The company was also accused of not doing enough to stem the tide of Facebook users in Myanmar promoting the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya muslim minority group.
2. Eli Lilly
As health care and health care affordability become a bigger issue in American politics, drug companies have been under scrutiny for how much money they charge for medication. One of the most heavily criticized companies is pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly.
Eli Lilly is one of three companies supplying the vast majority of insulin used by diabetic Americans. These companies are now under investigation after attorneys general from 20 states accused them of conspiring to artificially inflate insulin prices. From 2002 to 2013, insulin prices have tripled, and there is no less-expensive generic option as there is for many other medications. A recently passed California law requires drugmakers to announce and justify any price increases, but Eli Lilly has chosen not to comply with this law as it challenges the new legislation in court.
Though Vice bills itself as hip, news service for younger consumers, it is struggling to catch on with the next generation. Google polled 1,100 Gen Zers, ages 13-17, on their opinions of 122 different brands to see what they considered cool. Vice scored a 2.5 out of 10 in awareness and a 4.25 in coolness, edging out only the Wall Street Journal.
Several higher up Vice executives have been embroiled in scandals recently. The company’s president and chief digital officer were both placed on leave after separate sexual harassment and misconduct claims. Though he is no longer with the company, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes has been in the news for his group, the “Proud Boys.” Labeled as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Proud Boys have been linked with racial violence at a number of events.
4. Juul company
E-cigarettes manufacturer Juul Labs has been criticized for getting a new generation addicted to nicotine. The company agreed to an FDA request to pull certain flavors of its vaporized nicotine product after it was determined that Juul pods with fruity flavors like mango may be appealing to children.
Though smoking rates among high school students have continued to decline in recent years, e-cigarette usage rates among the age group has skyrocketed, from 1.5% in 2011 to 16% in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many have blamed the popularity of Juuls for this rise in childhood nicotine use.
5. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins had a rough 2018 — both on and off the field. The team continues to face criticism for the name “Redskins,” which many consider to be a racial slur. In May, several cheerleaders came forward and accused the franchise of “degrading treatment,” including being forced to pose partially nude for a photoshoot and act as personal escorts for male sponsors during a 2013 team-organized trip to Costa Rica. The team disputed these accounts.
Washington took even more heat in November, after acquiring linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers after he was arrested on domestic violence charges — his second arrest for a violent incident, though both charges have since been dropped. The team’s safety, Montae Nicholson, was also arrested on assault charges in December.
6. Frontier Communications
Like many modern corporations, Frontier Communications provides several services to its customers. Yet none are well reviewed. On the 2018 ACSI, three of the six worst reviewed services are Frontier’s: the company’s internet service scored a 54, the second lowest overall score. Frontier’s subscription TV service scored a 56, and its fixed-line telephone service scored 57. Frontier acquired Verizon’s Fios phone, TV, and internet services in several U.S. states in 2015, replacing those services with its own. In the following years, the ACSI scores of all three of these Frontier businesses have declined.
According to its employees, Frontier is also one of the worst places to work. It has a 2.3 out of 5.0 rating on employee review site Glassdoor, the second lowest of any large company. Just 23% of employees who left reviews on the site would recommend that their friends work there.
The #MeToo movement has reached all corners of the entertainment industry, implicating many powerful men in incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault. But CBS has been hit particularly hard by allegations of sexual misconduct at the company’s highest level. CEO Les Moonves was ousted in 2018 after The New Yorker published a report containing allegations from a dozen women that he harassed and threatened female employees for decades. He called the accusations “untrue.”
Days after Moonves left CBS, Jeff Fager, who was the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” also left following accusations by half a dozen women of inappropriate touching. Some also said that he shielded male employees from consequences when they were accused of sexual harassment themselves. Fager denied the allegations. Several other writers, showrunners, producers, and actors associated with CBS programming have also been accused of inappropriate behavior.
8. Spirit Airlines
Many Americans consider flying a major hassle, and certain airlines can make that experience worse. According to the ACSI, Spirit Airlines has the worst customer experience of any airline in the country. Its score of just 62 was significantly below the airline industry score of 73.
Though Spirit Airlines’ public perception has slightly improved over the past several years, it is still the airline Americans least enjoy flying. Fliers are nearly three times as likely to lodge a complaint against the no-frills, discount airline as they are against the average airline.
9. Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo has the worst customer service score of any of the major banks rated by the ACSI, at 74. While many national banks sustained serious damage to their reputations in the years following the subprime mortgage crisis because of their involvement and complicity in the events leading up to it, Wells Fargo’s PR woes continue.
The bank took a much more recent hit to its reputation after it came to light that company employees had been creating fake customer accounts in order to meet quotas and inflate company revenue. In the aftermath of the scandal, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf stepped down. But even after Stumpf left, revelations about the company’s underhanded dealings continued to pile up. In February of 2018, the city of Sacramento accused the bank of engaging in illegal lending to low-income communities.
According to a BrandZ report, General Electric lost nearly a third of its brand value in 2018 as a result of repeated failures and setbacks across the conglomerate’s numerous business units. GE’s tough year began when it announced insurance liabilities from a past venture would cost the company $6.2 billion right away and $15 billion over the next seven years.
The company was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misstating financial reports over two years. These issues, combined with mounting debt, have taken a toll on GE stock. Over the past year, GE’s share price dropped from $18.54 to $8.56.