Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Brand Murder?

There’s mudslinging. Character assassination. Sex. It’s not even about politics. It’s what’s happening to brands these days.

There has been a lot of chat lately about giving your customers some control over your brand. The “experts” have been saying that the youngest members of a company’s customer base aren’t likely to be persuaded by traditional interactions with a company and its products. You’re supposed to be experimenting, using new media, accepting new attitudes. Aren’t you?

An article by Rance Crain called “How Do You Get Control Back If You Cede Brands to Consumers?” was just published in the October 15th issue of Ad Age. Part of what Crain wrote:

Here's a question: With all this talk about consumers taking control of brands, how do you get control back again if you decide to change direction? Or once you open the gates, is your brand's destiny out of your hands forever?

Right now, Burger King’s bad-boy promotions are built around its creepy King character and aimed at male teenagers. But that doesn’t give the restaurant chain much to build on if it decides to play nice or to expand its pitch to other target groups….Russ Klein of Burger King said turning your brand over to the consumer enables “social connectivity” as a means of empowerment.I couldn’t help think but what a dangerous game he’s playing.

The current BK strategy is for it to develop “social currency,” and Mr. Klein said to achieve this aim, “it's more important to be provocative than pleasant.”

Crain’s ultimate point is that Burger King is losing control of its brand, rather than providing that social connectivity. If you don’t believe that, go here (or Google “Burger King Commercial” and select “Banned Burger King Commercial” – but be careful, this one is more than a little disturbing).

You can watch the real Burger King commercials here – something for everyone, from chickens with attitude to the “Stackers Union” spot, or (in the BK® Table Guests section) conversations with models from Maxxim magazine.

It’s like Burger King Meets Las Vegas – you know, the place where what happens there stays there. Except for Burger King, it doesn’t: the results are all over the web, quite aside from your TV sets.

Michael Fielding, writing in the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News this month, says that brand owners are already…uh…screwed. “Companies no longer control their brands: Joe Chemo, Camel’s sickly camel stricken with lung cancer? Burger King’s mascot in an salacious visit to a couple’s bedroom? (See above.) An ad hoc commercial for Chevy Tahoe saying ‘global warming is here’?”

Don’t think, colleagues and clients, that the problem is confined to consumer brands. There’re many companies that have been hammered by what Marketing News calls “doppelgangers” – the websites and blogs that have been created by citizens with intentions either parodic or just plain nasty.

Not only media commentators, but bloggers too, have analyzed commercials from firms like Halliburton and BP (for example). These commentators reach a lot of consumers…maybe even your customers.

The current thinking: don’t fight back..mostly. Susan Fournier, quoted in the Marketing News article (page 15), says that fighting the doppelganger is against the entire new marketing paradigm; that co-creation is the key to creating brands.

I think you should find ways to fight. The Internet, blogs, texting – the new media offer ways for disgruntled people to strike at your brand and spread the word…often so fast that you may not even be aware of the negative imagery. You cannot control it, no matter how angry you and your senior management get. But you can moderate the negatives. Tell your side of the story. Interact with your markets in a positive way.

Do not, as Honeywell did years ago in response to a negative article in Fortune, pull all your advertising from the offending magazine(s) and go sit in your “quiet place.”

Do not let other people dictate how your brand is perceived. Fight the good fight.

Thanks to Rob Schoenbeck for kicking this one off. Photo taken from with apologies. Google/Image for “Burger King” and you’ll see quite a few more.

1 comment:

Rachel Baron said...

Just read over your blog about branding, and oddities that are arising in advertising. One ad campaign that I am in LOVE with, that I think are part of this trend and I hope to continue seeing are the Geiko caveman ads. I think they are brilliant, and funny, and off the beaten path.

Just thought I would share, and wondering how to let them know they are doing a great job - If I had a car I would call them.