Friday, October 07, 2005

Hunting Bear

Sometimes, you get that bear. In the corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot, about two miles away, Allstate has placed a mobile recovery unit to help their policy-holders expedite insurance claims from both Katrina and Rita.

In case you hadn’t noticed, those two hurricanes have been through this part of the country like a sloth of angry grizzlies.

There have been several articles in newspapers about this particular unit (e.g., Mark Passwaters’ article in The Memorial Sun). These columns have described Allstate’s National Catastrophe Team and the good work they have been doing.

What I noticed is the inadvertent, but superb, reinforcement of the Allstate brand. Not that Allstate needs brand support. It is one of the best recognized brands in the US. Yet it’s the very visible association of Allstate with “good works” that, like the efforts of the Red Cross, will keep the brand’s positive level extremely high. Allstate logo banners are all over the parking lot, visible from one of the most heavily traveled traffic arteries in West Houston.

Positive brand comprehension exists and is reinforced despite other news reports of difficulties with insurance claims throughout the Gulf Coast region.

The fact that the Allstate recovery unit is in a Wal-Mart parking lot contributes to Wal-Mart’s already massive brand awareness, too. Wal-Mart has also been a highly visible presence in recent relief efforts.

This is a positive case of trade dress in action – carrying brand identification through to every element of a company’s activities, from coffee mugs to truck signage. Contrast this with what happened on 24 March 1989. The tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in the upper part of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The tanker, according to NOAA, carried about 53 million gallons of crude oil. In just a few days, the wrecked tanker had spilled almost 11 million of those gallons into Prince William Sound. Every photograph of the grounded vessel clearly showed the brand owner: Exxon. Every human remotely familiar with the event always referred to the tanker as the Exxon Valdez. Bad, bad, very bad for Exxon.

Total brand identification brings both rewards and risks. Sometimes, these are not fully evaluated in creating and maintaining a brand. Sometimes, brands get extra blessings thanks to human resourcefulness and corporate responsiveness. Sometimes, events just come along and bite your brand in the ass. The bear gets you.

Bear this in mind, then: Plan ahead. Consider what might happen to affect your brand and your trade dress in the future.

1 comment:

farout man said...

Interesting observations. But did you notice the story in the Houston Chronicle today about Allstate denying claims by policyholders unable to return to their homes because of Hurricane Rita-related damage?

I imagine there are a fair number of Allstate customers this morning who would dispute the company's brand promise, "You're in good hands." Allstate can fly as many banners in parking lots as they want, but if they choose not to back up their words with actions, it won't mean a thing.