[Editor’s Note: This article is a part of ADText.]
1. The Management of Brands
Contemporary advertising is the management of brands. Commercial messages encourage consumers to buy a Coke, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew—not just any soft drink. They tell us to use our MasterCard, Visa, or Discover Card—not just any credit card—and to take our dream vacation in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or Cancun. Although it can be argued that the sum total of promotional messages does encourage soft drink consumption, the use of credit cards, and foreign vacations—each particular advertisement promotes a specific brand by claiming that one version of all the soft drinks, one credit card, and one place to visit is the best and most perfect. The promotion of such claims is the essence of modern advertising.
It has not always been this way. Before the second half of the 19th century, most goods were sold generically. Soap was soap, sugar was sugar, and oil was oil in the old general merchandise store. Even today in farmers’ markets throughout the world, producers typically sell their products without any reference to brand names. To some degree, coffee is still coffee, salt remains salt, and beans are just beans. In a local market, however, the buyer usually knows the seller, and the commodity thus carries the implicit imprimatur of a known and (possibly) respected producer. For example, in the Thursday market in Usangi, Tanzania, the coffee beans are grown by Juma from Kilimani Village, whose good name certifies the quality of the beans. In a Paris street market, it is Pascal Dion’s sea salt, raked in the Guérande marshes, that his brother Régis sells to the demanding shoppers. The late-summer runner beans in the Saturday morning farmers’ market in Carrboro, North Carolina, are grown by Alex and his wife Lynne, whose seasonal organic produce can always be trusted. Thus, it is not correct to call the commodities these vendors sell generic because each is strongly associated in the minds of buyers with specific producers.
With the advent of factory and industrial production, this intimate relationship between goods and their producers faded. Producers became unknown to consumers, and intermediaries (eventually large corporations) offered themselves and their names as substitutes for personal certification of the quality of goods. Most of the earliest American brands—names like Heinz, Swift, and Kellogg—emerged in the late 1800s as companies imprinted their names (or names they invented) on the mass-produced commodities they sold.
For example, H. J. Heinz was an entrepreneur who marketed canned and bottled versions of the sorts of pickles, sauces, and relishes that Americans had formerly made at home. As his business grew from face-to-face selling, Heinz turned to advertising and marketing techniques to promote his products. He developed the idea of Heinz 57, meaning that his company produced fifty-seven varieties. Perhaps his best known advertising ploy was an enormous illuminated sign on the New York City site now occupied by the Flatiron Building. His sign was a favorite along the “Great White Way” of Broadway. The sign featured a huge green pickle and several product names that flashed in alternating sets of colored lights.
Branding removes any idea of the generic. It emerges in the context of capitalist production where mass-produced goods are packaged, labeled, and given names that associate them with the companies that produce and/or market them. The distinction between producing and marketing is important because many companies simply buy generic commodities and add their brand names to them. Other companies produce some or all of what they market. Early brand names—Heinz’s ketchup, Swift’s bacon, and Kellogg’s corn flakes—carried the personal name of the company’s owner. Gradually, many such names gave way to non-personal names, and many companies contrived names of imaginary characters like Aunt Jemima, Old Grand-Dad, and Dutch Boy. Brand names populate contemporary market places—Kleenex tissues, Ivory soap, IBM computers, Mr. Clean cleaning products, and Sara Lee baked goods. Each of these well-known names—whatever its source—is today a proprietary trademark of an established corporation.
Design theorists and historians Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller suggest that some of the personalities associated with packaged products do more than just supply an easily recognizable image:
Familiar personalities such as Dr. Brown, Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Old Grand-Dad came to replace the shopkeeper, who was traditionally responsible for measuring bulk foods for customers and acting as an advocate for products… a nationwide vocabulary of brand names replaced the small local shopkeeper as the interface between consumer and product.1
2. The History of Branding
The practice of placing a brand (meaning to mark with a hot iron) is an ancient practice and its extension to consumer goods, although revolutionary, occurred without great fanfare. Read about the emergence of advertising in “A Brief History of Advertising in America.”
Advertising played a major role in developing the concept of branding. Almost from the beginning of industrial production, advertising helped producers deliver their selling messages to potential consumers. As mass-production of goods increased the availability of commodities in the market place, advertising emerged as a means of helping move these goods. Manufacturers willingly hired advertising agents to write copy and place ads in appropriate media outlets. About the same time, branding developed as manufacturers attempted to differentiate their products from the competition by placing trademarks on them and making claims on packaging and in advertisements about the unique qualities of their brands.
It was the advertising agents who carried the banners, helped boost public awareness, and sought to make their clients’ names fall off the tongues of consumers. They did their best to encourage the public to buy particular brands—through jingles, slogans, brand names painted on the sides of barns, and with whatever other means they could find. Thus, branding, competition, capitalism, and advertising not only go hand-in-hand but in fact emerged historically at the about the same time—during the latter years of the 19th century.
By the early years of the 20th century, many brand names became as well known as the products. Some brand names even became the commonly used generic term such as kleenex for facial tissue or kodak for a camera. The companies, of course, resisted this usage so as to maintain their claim to their trademark name. The concept of a trademark as a property of a company is recognized under US law.
Even today, advertisers judge an ad to be a failure when the consumer remembers that it was for bread or cigarettes rather than for a specific brand. Advertisements typically promote specific brands, and thus advertising is a service for promoting brands. Occasionally, an advertisement will promote a generic category, as, for example, the California Fluid Milk Processors’ Advisory Board asking “Got Milk?” In the middle years of the 20th century, The Brand Names Foundation, a trade organization, recommended to the public in a series of print ads and TV commercials that only recognized brand names should be trusted.
Today, the primary role of advertising is assisting its clients in the development and management of their brands. Producing actual advertisements (like print ads and TV spots) is only one of the many means that might be used. The management of a brand, especially the idea of increasing the value of the brand (or the brand equity) may involve many additional techniques: product placement, sponsorship of events, direct and Internet advertising, and other means of keeping a brand and its good image before the buying public.
3. What is a Brand?
If modern advertising is managing brands, when did this become the case? According to Naomi Klein, author of No Logo (2000), the defining moment occurred in 1988 when the Philip Morris Corporation purchased Kraft foods for $12.6 billion, six times the paper value of the company. Wall Street and Madison Avenue understood the price differential to be the “good will” and intangible values associated with the Kraft brand of products. Over the years, Kraft had built up loyal customers, a trusted name for itself, and a reliable distribution network that reached millions of consumers. For those reasons, Philip Morris was willing to pay a handsome price to acquire them.
Marketing gurus latched on to the idea that companies need to have brands (not just names or logos) and that these brands needed to be carefully managed and developed in order to create brand equity. This language replaced earlier notions of advertising’s functions. The idea of brand in this sense is applied today not just to commodities but also to organizations, tourist destinations, and even nations.
Here are some definitions of the brand concept:
Today, a brand is usually defined as a name, logo, or symbol intended to distinguish a particular seller’s offerings from those of competitors. Great brands—Coca-Cola, American Express, McDonald’s, IBM, Rolls-Royce, Chanel, Sony—command awareness and esteem from consumers around the world.2- Nancy F. Koehn
A “brand” is not a thing, a product, a company or an organization. A brand does not exist in the physical world—it is a mental construct. A brand can best be described as the sum total of all human experiences, perceptions and feelings about a particular thing, product or organization. Brands exist in the consciousness—of individuals and of the public.3- James R. Gregory
Corporations may manufacture products, but what consumers buy are brands.4- Naomi Klein
- David Aaker
Most people use the term quite loosely, but what they usually mean is that these places, people and organizations have found that their reputation is important to them. They suffer when it’s negative and they profit when it’s positive, and so they make some attempt to control it…. At heart, a brand is nothing more and nothing less than the good name of something that’s on offer to the public.5- Simon Anholt and Jeremy Hildreth
4. Four Models of Branding
Discussions of branding frequently mention the elusive attributes that cause consumers to feel and behave they way they do about consumer choices. A brand is often likened to the “personality” of the product. Advertising agencies serve as managers of brands and work to maintain and grow brand equity. Behind these activities lie some different notions of branding. Professor Doug Holt of Oxford University, author of How Brands Become Icons (2004), has proposed four models of branding that distinguish key approaches to understanding, managing, and developing brands.
Mind-Share Branding understands a brand to “own a simple, focused position in the prospect’s mind, usually a benefit associated with the product category.”6 This approach seeks to associate with the brand a set of attributes, emotions, symbols, activities, and behaviors in consumers’ minds. Advertising, of course, plays a major role in helping define and link these to the brand. Think, for example, of how McDonald’s restaurants are as much a state of mind as they are physical locations that provide consumers with standardized food choices in a relatively short amount of time. The brand is backed up by the golden arches, Ronald McDonald, Happy Meals, and so on. Similarly, the emotions and attitudes toward Oreo cookies, along with different ways to eat them, have been linked in consumers’ minds to the brand. Apple computers, their look, their functionality, and the lore that surrounds them are all a part of the brand.
The mind-share approach to branding owes its origins to the hard-selling advertising of the 1950s, when it was customary for most ads to offer unique selling propositions (known as USPs). In this context, advertising’s role was to inform consumers about a particular benefit of the advertised brand and to continue “on strategy,” repeating this point over and over again until consumers internalized the information. Take, as examples, the USPs used by Crest toothpaste (dentists’ recommendations and the brand’s distinctive cavity-fighting ability) and Dove soap (the claim that its gentleness is based on the fact that cleansing cream accounts for one quarter of its formula). Both brands gave consumers strong reasons-why they should purchase the advertised brand rather than some other.
Mind share remains a popular approach to branding today, although the terminology used varies somewhat. Some mind-share approaches speak of brand essence, brand identity, DNA, genetic code, or brand soul, but the fundamentals of these approaches are similar.
Compare the Starbucks approach to advertising and marketing to the advertisement of coffee in London in 1657.
Emotional branding extends the mind-share approach by focusing specifically on the identification of key emotions linked to the brand. The focus of advertising activities in an emotional branding approach is to maintain and link fundamental associations with the brand over time. Advertising’s role is to build emotionally charged relationships with core customers. Former Starbucks executive Scott Bedbury explains the way Starbucks built its brand into virtual cult status through emotional appeals and consumer experiences. As any consumer knows, there is much more to Starbucks than a cup of coffee in a paper cup. According to Bedbury, Starbucks research helped to define the essence of the brand.
To most people “coffee” was far more than simply a product to be consumed. A key part of the “coffee experience” for many consumers was the atmosphere and the conditions under which they savored this emotionally charged beverage. For nearly five hundred years, the “coffeehouse” had evolved as a tradition in many cultures that served to deepen and even mystify the complex culture of coffee. And so, after conducting hundreds of interviews and poring over the immense breadth of coffee literature, from the psychoanalysts of fin-de-siècle Vienna—many of whom practically lived in coffeehouses—to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, we arrived at an inescapable conclusion: The Starbucks brand core identity was less about engineering a great cup of coffee than about providing a great coffee experience.7
Viral Branding focuses on creating a “buzz” about the brand that will multiply and spread. It depends on consumers to foster and perpetuate a grass roots appreciation of the brand and its meaning in their lives. This approach stems from classic ideas about public influence—specifically, how ideas spread from one person to another by word-of-mouth and influence leaders and public relations. Viral branding emerged in the 1990s as a response to increased cynicism toward consumption and advertising. It also grew up in the age of the Internet and increasingly depends on the web as a way of spreading ideas about the brand.
Viral branding assumes that consumers will be more responsive to their own “discoveries” of a brand, perhaps on the suggestion of a friend or from someone on the Internet, than they would be to mass marketing techniques. Marketers and advertisers often “seed” the brand by attempting to link it to highly influential people.
Holt has called Snapple a “poster child for viral branding.”8 “Snapple developed tremendous buzz among cognoscenti in New York and beyond, eventually spreading across the United States.” Its “ragtag community of fans” liked its “underground coolness” as an alternative to prepackaged mass-produced items and mass culture. The commercial in Figure 10 illustrates the way Snapple’s advertising picks up on these aspects of the brand’s “personality.”
Cultural branding recognizes the iconic status that some brands achieve in the culture at large. These are larger-than-life brands—Harley-Davidson, Budweiser, and Mountain Dew, for example, but there are many others—that offer themselves to consumers as the means of resolving certain conflicts inherent in the society and culture. Social dislocations rooted in class differences, racial tensions, and gender equality struggles produce touchstones within the culture where new myths are to be made. These new cultural mythologies that seek to resolve, or at least minister, to such tensions—especially when harnessed and linked to a brand in the marketplace—can move a brand into cultural iconic status.
The concept of cultural branding is new. It was developed by Holt in response to the failure of the previous three models to explain how some brands achieve singular status within the culture. The story of Mountain Dew illustrates the process of cultural branding.
Mountain Dew, first introduced in the late 1940s and acquired by PepsiCo in 1964, was marketed initially in the Mid-Atlantic states as a competitor to Coke and Pepsi. Its success both locally and nationally is linked to identity myths that the company created and nurtured. Responding to the bureaucratic and dehumanizing world of post-war technology and work environments, Mountain Dew challenged the virtues of these new directions by cultivating a “hillbilly” myth in its advertising. Taking the brand’s name from a euphemism for moonshine liquor—itself anti-establishment,
…they crafted a beverage to create a heart-pumping rush from caffeine and sugar and gave it a bright yellow color and fewer bubbles so that it was chuggable. Then they created a comic hillbilly character … who drank Mountain Dew to “get high.” This branding was carried through advertising, packaging, and even to the location of the bottling plant.… Mountain Dew created a fictional manhood that stood against the buttoned-up emotions of organization men. The brand celebrated what Freud called the id and what Robert Bly called, in his best-selling book, Iron John, the wild man….9
According to Holt, later cultural changes in American society rendered this once-powerful myth empty. The genius of Mountain Dew marketing is that it reinvented itself by promoting new myths, the most recent of which is the slacker myth, created against the background of corporate downsizing, global outsourcing, and a cynicism toward work and corporations.
In 1993 Mountain Dew introduced the tag-line, “Do the Dew,” in a commercial entitled “Done That.” Three unexpected elements of slacker culture are central to the campaign. First, extreme sports are seen as something to be accomplished personally, not as another means of competition. Second, the guys in the ads live for the “adrenaline thrill of life-threatening feats,” thereby snubbing “mainstream” values of success. Third, “in Mountain Dew’s warped worldview, the people with real power [are] consumers who asserted peculiar tastes”—such as extreme-sport connoisseurs and opinionated consumers with ultrachoosy tastes.10
The common theme across these different approaches is that it is the brand, not the product, which is being put before the consuming public. Through branding corporations make promises of both the tangible and intangible attributes of what consumers find in the market place. The concept of brand clearly links the notion of personal identity with consumption in contemporary life.
5. Brand America
The idea that America is a brand and its current problems in the world are branding issues is laid out by Simon Anholt and Jeremy Hildreth. These London-based brand consultants have applied the concept of branding to organizations and nations with interesting results. The title of their book says it all: Brand America—The Mother of All Brands (2005).
According to Anholt and Hildreth, America is not just a country but it is also a brand, with all that that implies. They argue that for many of the world’s people it is, or at least it was, “the ultimate aspirational brand.”11 At the core of the brand is America’s fundamental premise of a society based on liberty and democracy. These core concepts led many people to migrate to the United States leaving behind the more limited resources and less free politics of their birth countries. It also led America’s citizens to a love of country and its symbols practically unparalleled elsewhere.
They trace the origins of Brand America to the founding fathers who first articulated the key principles on which the brand is built. Benjamin Franklin, especially as ambassador to France, did much to promote the brand overseas. From there, the history of the country can be read as a development of the brand and of brand equity. Like a commercial product, it has its distinctive symbols, logos, rituals, and spokespersons.
Marketing America like a soft drink may not appeal as a concept to a lot of people, but the idea was actually put into practice following September 11, 2001. Former advertising superstar, Charlotte Beers (who had headed up both Ogilvy & Mather and the J. Walter Thompson agencies), was appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy directly after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Bringing her expertise to the table, she developed a campaign entitled the “Shared Values Initiative” to help shore up Brand America in the Muslim world.
The US State Department published a booklet entitled “Network of Terrorism” early in the campaign. It sought to evoke a sympathetic understanding of the tragedy America faced on September 11th by showing images of the destruction that took place. Photographs carried captions like, “Forever Changed, the New York City Skyline is Awash in Smoke for Hours Following the Collapse of the World Trade Center …; Firefighters Make Their Way Through the Rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11; Looking Down at ‘Ground Zero;’ and The Site of the World Trade Center, One Week After the Attack.” This effort was deemed to have had relatively low impact. Beers explained this as related to the difficulty of actually getting the booklets into people’s hands, coupled with low literacy rates, in many of the countries that were targeted.
Another focus of the campaign was a series of “mini-documentaries” known as “Muslim Life in America.” These TV spots showed Muslims living and working in America. They depicted Muslim women dressed modestly, people at prayer in American mosques, and the freedom to practice one’s religion. This prong of the campaign was based on research indicating that Americans and Muslims share certain key values, among them family, religion, and education. The spots, produced in a manner so as to mimic documentary style, were sponsored by The Council of American Muslims for Understanding (a group funded by the Department of State). Most Muslim countries saw through the guise and refused to air this American propaganda. Beers received significant criticism and blame from diplomats and government officials alike who accused her of attempting to sell America as she had once sold rice—a reference to her early work on the Uncle Ben’s brand. Within 17 months of beginning her work at the State Department, Beers resigned “for health reasons.”12
Read about the use of advertising in other wars in the curriculum unit on “Public Service Advertising”.
The questions of whether advertising should be used as a tool of political propaganda and whether it is helpful to think of and treat America as a brand have been hotly debated in the press and by members of the academic world following this overt and largely unsuccessful campaign. Actually, the history of public service campaigns shows many previous occasions in which advertising techniques were used by the government in other war efforts.
6. Branding Places
If the idea of Brand America seems inappropriate to many, the branding of places is actually quite widely accepted by the public. Countries, as well as the commodities that come from them, carry powerful ideas in the minds of consumers. Anholt and Hildreth analyze the success of the branding of different countries. Some of the most successful national brands have clear associations in consumers’ minds: Japan with technology, entertainment, and design; Germany with quality engineering; Italy with style and sexiness; Switzerland with purity, wealth, and integrity; and France with chic and quality of life. Advertising, of course, plays a major role in maintaining the equity in these brands.
Success Levels of National Branding13
|Countries with Successful Brands||Countries That Are Working on Their Brands||Countries That Are Megabrands||‘Mother of All Brands’|
7. Brand Trouble
Brands run into trouble when what they promise is not being delivered. Experts on brands believe that one of the best ways to avoid this problem is being consistent—in what the brand delivers and how it is positioned in the marketplace. A now-classic example of tinkering with a brand that did not work was the introduction of a new Ken (Earring Magic Ken) by the Mattel Corporation in 1993.
Barbie, and her companion, Ken, have been two of the most successfully marketed dolls of all time. Barbie has gone through many changes since she was first introduced in 1959. Ken, however, had changed much less. In 1993, Mattel introduced a new version of Ken to make him more contemporary. Ken not only wore hipper clothes, but he sported a left earring as well.14
The public reception to Ken was fiery. It didn’t take long for Earring Magic Ken to be dubbed Gay Ken. Although Mattel decided to remove this version of Ken from the market, the corporation ran the risk of being labeled homophobic by more liberal-minded members of the public in doing so.
The controversy has died down over time and somewhat like the fizzled New Coke, Earring Magic Ken has quietly disappeared. The lesson Mattel learned was that Ken’s brand equity lay in his consistency. In 2004, Ken and Barbie split, much to the dismay of long-time Barbie fans. Today, Barbie and Ken are together again and remain popular dolls.
The management of brands for their clients is the major function of advertising agencies today. In practice, this management takes many forms and involves diverse ways of interacting with consumers. From the point of view of consumers, branding links personal identity with consumption patters.
William M. O’Barr is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where he has taught since 1969. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Sociology and English. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern, Dalhousie, and Oxford Universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching by both the Duke University Alumni Association and Trinity College (Duke University). His course, Advertising and Society: Global Perspectives, is one of Duke’s most popular undergraduate courses. His many seminar courses include Advertising and Masculinity, Children and Advertising, and The Language of Advertising.
He is author or co-author of ten books, including Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising, Rules versus Relationships, and Just Words: Law, Language and Power. He has conducted anthropological research in East Africa, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his interest in social and cultural aspects of advertising, Professor O’Barr has researched law in a variety of cultural settings.
In 2000, he founded Advertising & Society Review and served as editor from 2000 to 2005. He is author of Advertising and Society — An Online Curriculum which will consist of 20 units published as supplements to A&SR.
1. Ellen Lupton and J. Abbot Miller, Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design (New York: Kiosk, 1996), 177. Quoted in Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2000), 6.
2. Nancy F. Koehn, Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001), 5.
3. James R. Gregory and Jack Weichmann, Leveraging the Corporate Brand (Chicago: NTC Business Books, 1997).
4. Klein, 7.
5. Simon Anholt and Jeremy Hildreth, Brand America: The Mother of All Brands (London: Cyan, 2004), 10.
6. Al Ries and Jack Trout, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980). Quoted in Doug Holt, How Brands Become Icons (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004), 15.
7. Scott Bedbury, A New Brand World (New York: Viking, 2002), 49.
8. Holt, 29.
9. Holt, 43.
10. Holt, 55–6.
11. Anholt and Hildreth, 7.
12. Jami A. Fullerton and Alice G. Kendrick, Advertising’s War on Terrorism (Spokane, WA: Marquette Books, 2006), 19–42.
13. Table based on Anholt and Hildreth, 16.
14. Matt Haig, Brand Failures (London: Konan Page, Ltd.: 2003), 50–52.
Fig. 1. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 5. From WackyPackages.org.
Fig. 6. Popular Science, September 1957, 56.
Fig. 8. McCall’s, October 1964, 63.
Fig. 10. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 11. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 12. From the author’s collection.
Fig. 15. From SVIbook.com.
Fig. 16. From SVIbook.com.
Fig. 17. From SVIbook.com.
Fig. 18. From SVIbook.com.
Fig. 19. From Jaerger Le Coultre.
Fig. 20. From About-France.com.
Fig. 21. From Fashonista.ru.
Fig. 22. From the author’s collection.