the grass is greener on the internet

August 18, 2008, 12:25 pm
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After reading this article in Australia’s Marketing magazine on the recently banned fake Guinness viral, had some thought about who gets to define a brand. Is it, as the origin of the word would suggest, an image that is under the control of the company (or the brander)? Or it is perhaps, as the article opines, a negotiation?

I suppose as a form of communications, branding definitely involves a feedback loop that verifies the consumer’s impression of the message. However, with the often complex and/or subtle messages that comprise a brand, it’s easy for there to be mistakes or misinterpretations. Can branders really control it?

And what happens when someone decides to extend your brand without permission? If it’s in line with your current brand you win. If it isn’t, but the effect is positive, is it still okay? Does it reflect that you need to change your brand for the customer? And what does it tell you if it’s construed negatively, like the disasterous ‘make your own’ incidents (GM’s customer ads for the Chevy, and Nike’s customisable sneaker design, to name a couple).

Brands aren’t a physical thing that you can own; they’re not even a chose in action, protected by intellectual property laws. You can patent your inventions, copyright your content and trademark your business logos, and so if someone else tries to use them you at least have legal recourse. But a brand? if someone mishandles it, there’s nothing you can do to them, let alone to rectify what’s been done.

Should we just be resigning ourselves to not having complete control? There are already some ethical twinges at the extent marketers go to in order to reach into the subconscious of consumers; if we’re still not getting the results we want can we really go further?

I wish I had the answers to all these questions (but I guess if I did, I would have written a best-selling book by now and be lounging on a beach somewhere in Turks and Caicos).

The article also mentioned Coca-cola’s reaction to quite a fun viral video from a while back involving the reaction between Diet Coke and Mentos::

 Since Coca-Cola consistently comes in at the top of Interbrand’s brand equity valuations, and given the amount of money they have spent to build that global brand so that they can charge a premium, I really wouldn’t blame their communications team for being a bit touchy over control. There’s a time to run with it and a time to distance yourself, and this just may have been a time to go with the flow. However – if brand is partly defined by the consumer and this helps to build the brand image, do they really lose out on any benefits by separating themselves from the video? I think not.

Though evidently believes Coca-cola could loosen up a bit