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+++ S P E C I A L R E P O R T +++
"BRAND, BRAND ON THE WALL... Brand reflections"
2001 Jacques Chevron
 November 20, 2001

The goal of branding is to convince the public that a brand is trustworthy and thus worth paying a premium for. The buyer is assured that the branded product will perform as expected. But that is not the only reason why people are willing to pay a premium for some brands.

Consider the differences that exist between a Rolex watch and one made by Timex. Trust in their respective abilities to accurately keep track of time is not what justifies that one can cost 100 to 500 times more than the other. Sure, the Rolex watch is well made and is truly waterproof, whereas the Timex may only be "water-resistant," a lower standard of water-tightness. A few SCUBA divers may wear Rolex watches but I am ready to bet that the majority of Rolex wearers have never seen a decompression table...

People are willing to pay a premium price for brands that help define their self-image and their social image.

Successful brand marketers can convince you that their brands are worth paying a little more for because "you are worth it," and because there are brands that someone with your standing in society should prefer over others. This effect of branding can be felt in every category of product or service, from automobiles to floor cleaners. It is more likely to be apparent where the product is worn or used for all to see, but it exists everywhere.

If it is true that, to one degree or another, brand users define themselves through the brands they use, why is it that so many brands insist on portraying their customers as bumbling idiots, rude individuals or societal misfits?

Examples abound: There is the commercial for Direct TV in which the installer, after he is done with his work, receives a pat on the butt from the new client? "I'll see myself out," he says with embarrassment. There is the commercial for the appliance retailer, Best Buy, which shows a guy in his bathroom, playing with the commode? The announcer explains, "at Best Buy you can play with the appliances." There is the Chevrolet Malibu ad in which a male car buyer is invited to test drive the car. Upon first sitting in the car, he states: "I'll take it." At the urging of the sales person, he agrees to drive and, after driving only a few inches claims again, "I'll take it."Is this how these companies see their customers? More importantly, is this how their customers see themselves? Will this enhance the self-image of Direct TV subscribers or Best Buy shoppers? It is more likely that those who now drive a Chevrolet Malibu feel the need for a bumper sticker stating "I test drove this car before I bought it."

Some other examples are more subtly negative, such as a recent Lexus promotion. That commercial showed a woman in her home not responding fast enough to the sound of her doorbell. The problem was that the people ringing her doorbell were there to hand her a winning prize of some sort. They leave before the woman gets to the door. When she does open it, they are gone, prize and all. The announcer explains that the Lexus price promotion will be gone very soon, so you better hurry, etc. Why should Lexus portray a potential customer as an unlucky person?

I recall a discussion I had, many years ago, with an ad agency executive to whom I had pointed out that one of his commercials for United Airlines was portraying a customer so overwhelmed with his hectic life that he was incapable of even pressing the elevator button. I asked him why he was portraying his own customer so negatively. His answer: "I don't see it that way!" How did he see it? There are days when even the smartest individuals blunder, true. But do we need a brand of airline, of automobile or any product or service to make fun of the fact? I am not saying that, deep down, those companies do not respect their customers. What happens is more likely that those in charge of communications think the consumer's portrayal is humorous and communicate the product's key selling features. Yet they fail to place themselves in their customer's shoes and do not try to understand the potential negative impact that their ads can have on their brand's "mirror effect." The advertiser who portrays his customer in a non-flattering way diminishes his brand's ability to comfort the self-esteem of those who use it. Who cares if it is all done to achieve higher recall scores or to make the commercial entertaining?

Brands are born from consistently reflecting the same set of values, until, after some time, the consumer begins to associate those values with the brand and its owner. The knowledge of those values and the belief that the brand owner is willing to stick by them and defend the brand creates a feeling of comfort and trust in the brand.

But, as with any relationship, the bond is strengthened when it goes both ways. The consumers who are willing to trust your brand will trust it even more if the brand, in turn, shows them that it trusts and respects them. Tell them how great you think they are and never say or do anything that belittles them.

You must plan for the "mirror-effect" you want your brand to have on its customers and make it a part of your brand strategy. The branding team should determine what answers it wants to give to the following questions: "How will the brand affect my customers' social standing? Which part of the customers' self-esteem should the brand reinforce?" The answers should be kept simple with words such as "self-sufficient," "successful," "thrifty," "generous," "a person of good taste," etc., words that describe the positive effect of your brand on its consumer's psyche. The words chosen should conform to the general leaning of the brand strategy. They should also reflect how the corporation views the consumers of that particular brand.

Then, append the words to the brand strategy document in a paragraph titled "What brand usage reflects," or simply "Brand mirror." It may contain words like these: "As a result of their association with the brand, users see themselves as self-sufficient, and others view them as rugged and independent." In short, the brand mirror describes "what's in it for the consumer." It is akin to the "end benefit" of branding.

Show your customer that not only should they like your brand because it is trustworthy but let them know that your brand likes them too and thinks of them as the fairest of them all.

By Jacques Chevron

2016 West 55th Place
La Grange, IL 60525
Ph.: (708) 784-0730
Fax: (708) 784-0559
E-mail: Jacques(at)JRCandA.com

2001 Jacques Chevron



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