A 3rd Dimension to Building Strong Enduring Brands
In building brands, the marketer can rely on the rational appeal of a product or service to sell.
Much has been written about the science and/or art of building strong brands. Brand building literature is full of magic recipes for building strong brands. However, the brand parity problem – where consumers perceive different brands in the same category to be undifferentiated – is now becoming a problem even in categories previously seen to be immune to this commoditisation of brands, such as cigarettes and motorcars!
In analysing all the available brand building “recipes”, it is clear that they are very one-dimensional (e.g. intrinsic differentiation), or at most, two-dimensional (e.g. intrinsic and extrinsic differentiation). Focusing on only one, or both these dimensions, can be compared to viewing the human psyche as being two-dimensional, consisting only of the logos/eros functions (reason/emotion). What is missing is the third dimension, the soul. Similarly, in building brands, we often forget about the brand’s soul. The missing dimension is the archetypal dimension of the brand, thus …
BRAND = RATIONAL + EMOTIONAL + ARCHETYPAL
1. The first dimension: Rational (intrinsic)
It could be argued that Rosser Reeves, chairman of the Ted Bates & Co. advertising agency in the 1950’s, created the best-known brand building “recipe”, focusing on the product. He was one of the first to develop a technique for communicating in an overcrowded marketplace, and termed it the “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP). According to Reeves, in building a brand, the focus has to be on a unique proposition to the customer, and a proposition competitors couldn’t claim. Also, this proposition has to be compelling enough to motivate individuals to act.
Most importantly however, he believed that the product should be different from the competitors, not the advertising, and that if the product is worth paying for, then it is worth paying attention to. He criticised advertising agencies for thinking that advertising must sell the product, not the other way around. Of course, what led advertising agencies to focus on the advertising rather than the product, was the parity problem, and the fact that products were more easily copied by competitors. The result was the emergence of the “Emotional Selling Proposition” (ESP) generation!
2. The second dimension: Emotional (extrinsic)
The 1970s and 80s saw the rise of the ESP, or Emotional Selling Proposition. Emotion and empathy became the battleground, and advertising campaigns were full of emotional cues. Coke had the world in emotional tears with their “I’d like to teach the world to sing” campaign. In South Africa, Sanlam created huge empathy with their “Babies” television campaign.
The popularity of this focus on an ESP and “Emotional Branding” was often based on the Pavlovian (Ivan Pavlov’s salivating dog experiments) assumption that brands and emotions could be integrated by means of advertising. However, emotional branding created nothing more than short term emotionally charged fakes, rather than sustainable persuasive brands.
It is therefore not surprising that this theory is largely obsolete today, and that it is being replaced by newer “recipes such as the “Organizational Selling Proposition” (OSP), for which an organization’s values are the chief means of driving consumer choice. Another is the “Me Selling Proposition” (MSP), a renewed focus on the consumer, not the corporation, controlling the brand. “Me” is the consumer. “I create the brand, I change the brand, and I own the brand.”
3. Brands in consumers’ collective consciousness
Due to this focus on a brand’s ESP, many brands around the world today are largely undifferentiated. Their advertising and marketing campaigns are further exacerbating this problem. At most, these campaigns create a brand salience for the brand, with certain brand elements becoming part of a collective brand consciousness. Yet very few “reasons why” one brand should be preferred over-and-above another, are created and reinforced. Some of the biggest brands in South Africa illustrate this point:
• Banks are differentiated on colour
Anybody being exposed to South African bank brands for the first time may think that toddlers in a nursery school developed their brand differentiation strategies. Why?
When respondents are asked to do a brand sort exercise in qualitative research, more often than not, bank brands are grouped with objects and other brands of the same colour. It could therefore be argued that our bank brands were developed for the Rainbow Nation – the most salient point of difference between these brands is their colour, not specific product, service, or brand personality attributes. We have a Red, Blue, Green, and Turquoise (or Tree) Bank:
• Cellular networks fight for brand salience
Is MTN “The Better Connection”, or is Vodacom the “Leading Cellular Network”? How would consumers know how their coverage areas, or service levels differ? Product and service offerings are very similar to the average consumer. Consumers are not even able to calculate which cellular provider’s rates are better.
What does “Yebo Gogo” contribute to brand differentiation? In both cases, the “Yellow” and “Yebo Gogo” campaigns are simply branding devices aiding brand recognition and salience in the memories of consumers.
MTN’s campaign of “painting South Africa” Yellow in celebration of South Africa’s 10 years of cellular freedom, is nothing but an effort to dominate brand salience. There is no rational “reason why” the consumer should prefer MTN.
This campaign is another good example of a Pavlovian attempt of conditioning the consumer – hoping to create a link between the emotion of South Africa’s 10 years of democracy, and the MTN brand:
4. Consumers find it easy to “defend” themselves against marketers onslaught
With brands lacking clear differentiation in product and/or service, consumers are able to defend their current brand perceptions and behaviour against the onslaught of marketers. Marketing communication messages used are just not impactful and persuasive enough to penetrate the defence mechanisms in consumers’ minds.
Because these brand messages are all on a conscious level (rational or emotional). Consumers are able to fend them off:
• Consumers are able to decide whether or not they are going to expose themselves to a marketing message;
• If they do expose themselves to a message, they can choose whether or not to pay attention to the content;
• Even if they do pay attention to the message, they still have the choice of whether or not to remember the information, e.g. making a mental note to switch to the new brand.
So, if aiming our product and service messages at a consumer on a conscious level does not penetrate the consumer’s defences and persuade him or her with a differentiated “reason why” to prefer the brand, then maybe an approach aimed at the unconscious mind of the consumer could be the answer – a third dimension of brand building …
5. The third dimension: The brand as archetype
It could be argued that brands serve, in our consumption-driven society, a similar function as the ancient Greeks’ pantheon of gods. Brands in modern society also function as “projection holders” of the consumer’s dreams, fears, and fantasies.
The Greeks had their gods – we have our brands!
The third dimension refers to the fact that brands could be differentiated, and brand messages made more persuasive, if brands are “mythologised”, i.e. if they are integrated into the dreams and fantasies of consumers. This is possible when brands take on the persona and meaning of heroic characters, and archetypal symbols!
To understand this concept fully, it is necessary to explain what is meant by “the archetypes of the collective unconscious.”
• The archetypes of the collective unconscious
The collective unconscious provides the individual with patterns of behaviour, and focuses our attention on the fact that all people share in a psychologicalinheritance, which is common to all mankind. Every person’s unconscious contains all the patterns of life and behaviour inherited from his/her ancestors; with the result that every human child, prior to consciousness, possesses a potential system of adapted psychic functioning.
Archetypes are emotionally charged ideas that link universal concepts to individual experience, and are the contents of the collective unconscious. This concept proposes that human beings are more than just programmable mechanisms, responding only to the environment. Rather, we are born with an inherent nature, and our minds contain primordial “archetypes” or themes that are universal to all humankind. Some of these themes are mother, father, the playful child, the hero, the trickster, and the shadow.
• Brands as archetypes
When brands take on one or more of these archetypal roles, they appeal to consumers on a much deeper, unconscious and motivational level, bypassing the defences of the conscious mind.
The following examples serve to illustrate how brands have been differentiated using the power of archetypes:
• Betty Crocker, the corporate symbol of General Mills, symbolises the nurturing and universal mother image, which is deeply embedded in the human psyche;
• The image of the Quaker Oats Man is rooted in the Senex (old man) archetype and represents a reassuring, responsible father;
• The Breck shampoo girl, e.g. Brooke Shields, represents a mythical female character based upon the primordial maiden archetype, i.e. beautiful and pure;
• Calvin Klein Jeans: One of their commercials featured an actress wearing Calvin Klein Jeans and sitting with her legs wide open. The headline stated: “You want to know what gets between me and my Calvins ? Nothing !” This is an example of the flipside of the maiden archetype, i.e. the harlot.
• South African examples
Two South African brands have utilised this approach – probably without their brand management and advertising teams realising what they were doing!
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate (CDM) for years showed a simple love story between a boy and a girl – somewhere in a land of milk and honey. The brand dominated market share because it combined a USP (“A glass and a half of milk in every slab”) with the powerful emotion of the archetypal roles of the two characters – the boy as Prince and the girl as virginal Princess. Note how the pure qualities of milk and white as a colour reinforced this message. Beacon slabs’ rational “Twice refined” message during this time stood no chance against the powerful brand message of Cadbury’s!
The sales of Timotei Shampoo in this country rocketed during the time they exposed a particular television advertisement. In this advertisement, a young girl washed her hair next to a river. The girl featured was beautiful and looked innocent (the archetype of the beautiful maiden). After washing her hair with Timotei, a man riding a horse appeared (the archetype of the hero prince on a white horse), who picked her up and rode off with her into the sunset (forever after). This campaign also resonated with the consumer on a deep unconscious level, persuading both male and female consumers to purchase the brand.
Every archetype also has a negative – the shadow. An example is the flip side of the Good Mother archetype, i.e. the Smotherer. If brands are not careful, they may end up with these negative and sometimes destructive elements of archetypes as part of their brand personas. Take Discovery Health’s Vitality programme as an example:
A medical aid company should assume all the good qualities of a Mother archetype: loving, nurturing, caring etc. However, the Vitality programme uses punishment in the same way as an overly protective Mother, thus becoming a Smotherer!
You score points if you exercise regularly, do not smoke, manage your weight, even when you support certain brands. In this way, the consumer’s freedom of choice is limited. When you do not conform, e.g. when you do not visit the gymnasium often enough in a month, privileges are taken away from you and you are punished!
In building brands, the marketer can rely on the rational appeal of a product or service to sell. This will only work if a clear USP exists in the product.
The marketer can also try to form some emotional association between the brand, and an element in its marketing campaign, such as using celebrities in advertising (e.g. as Ernie Els endorsing SAP), or by using the empathy mothers in particular feel towards babies, such as the babies used by Sanlam in their advertising for many years.
The most powerful approach however, is to start with a strong intrinsically differentiated product or service. Add to that the power of an archetype to give it the universal appeal and emotion to make its appeal persuasive, such as Cadbury’s did for years marketing their chocolate slabs. It will enter the unconscious mind of the consumer on a tide of emotions and will grow stronger over time.
If this is achieved, the brand will appeal to the consumer on multiple levels:
• At a basic (metaphorical) level it tells stories that engage the consumer, are amusing, and entertain.
• On a magical level it convinces the consumer of the enigmatic powers inherent in the brand.
• On a cosmological level it works on a spiritual level by nourishing the soul – it provides a sense of belonging to the universe.
• On a sociological level it reflects or reinforces our cultural values.
• On an intra-personal level it provides us with archetypal figures we can project our dreams and fantasies onto.
• On an educational level it informs the consumer by communicating essential product attributes and benefits.
… but most importantly, on a business level, the brand will grow and be profitable for the company!
Dr Klaas Jonkheid
Klaas has gained considerable experience in marketing and advertising working for multinational companies such as Cadbury and FCB. During this period he attained a Doctorate in Marketing Management. He has been involved in helping some of the leading brands in this country, including Toyota, Vodacom, Sanlam, Media24, and National Brands Limited. He is a member of the Society for Consumer Psychology in the US, is a multiple SAMRA award winner, and lectures part time at leading universities in South Africa. He is a director of iD8 Marketing, a marketing services company he started with Dr Thomas Oosthuizen during 2003.