Immeasurable Harm – Brand Out of Control

It made me laugh.
It made me cry.
It made me scratch my head and then shake it gently in disbelief.
My wife asked if I needed to see a doctor.

It was Sunday morning and I was leafing through the latest edition of Wired Magazine (on paper – yes, I like paper even though I love my iPad) and came across a full page ad that looked like this:


Clearly, I am not the target audience for computer games. First-person-shooter was never my thing. I matriculated back during the days of pinball. “Comics” were things like Richie Rich, Archie, Superman, and Doonesbury.

So I started to turn the page when the cognitive dissonance stopped me.

“Battle at Comic-Con” it screamed. I know Comic-Con is a massive opportunity to dress up like your favorite fictional character, but in my pinball brain, the bald, blade-bearing, bare-chested, tattooed, leather-jockstrap-wearing, scowling warriors and “comics” together caused me to do a little mental side-step to bring myself into the modern age.

Then, my eyes dropped to the bottom and spotted that this was actually an ad for Cirque du Soleil – an organization I hold in the highest esteem. I’ve seen half a dozen of their performances and was agog each time. They are magnificent. And, the ad said, their show KA is “Live at the MGM Grand.”

OK – I’m now oriented to time and space. I’ve seen KA. It is a vigorous, physical drama that, “…uses acrobatic performances, the thrills and action of martial arts techniques from all over the world, plus innovations in puppetry and multimedia to tell the epic tale of twins on a perilous journey to fulfill their shared destiny.”

Then, my eye drifted back up to the top to see: “Live at PETCO Park, San Diego”

This is what causes my brain to joggle and my wife to become concerned about my well-being. Las Vegas or San Diego? Adorable bunnies or fierce fighters? Paper or plastic?

I wanted to ask the good people in PETCO’s marketing department about their thinking process. When they plunked down $60 million for the privilege of having their name on this stadium for 22 years, did they think that only baseball games and Easter egg hunts would be held at this park?

Maybe they could not foresee that their corporate image of family-oriented, healthy pets and a better world was going to be associated with half naked, spear rattling, menacing marauders but they should have been prescient enough to know that they were ceding control over the potential traits that might be ascribed to their brand.

One’s opinion about PETCO is not changed grossly or even consciously by this juxtaposition. The shift is subtle.

The shift gets worse when, following the instructions at the bottom of the ad to, “visit,” one ends up with a variety of error messages depending on whether on an iPad, Chrome, or Internet Explorer.




My point? Branding matters.

Branding is not money wasted. It’s not a fool’s errand. It helps keep your good name in front of the public and it allows you to determine the brand attributes with which you want your organization to be associated.

My assumption is that a company like PETCO would prefer brand attributes like:

  • Quality
  • Satisfaction
  • Caring
  • Animal lover
  • Responsible
  • Fun

Over attributes like:

  • Weapons
  • War
  • Fear
  • Kinky leather codpieces

In the good old days, a brand was made up of your logo, your slogan, and your jingle. Today, your brand is firmly in the hands of your prospects and customers. Their voice is louder than your advertising.

So if you are going to spend $60 million on branding, shouldn’t it be on something that you have some control over?

Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on a 22-year sponsorship of something like Family Circle Magazine or dog poop bag dispensers at public parks?

Can your branding efforts produce measurable results? Oh yes. Avinash Kaushik has done a wonderful job of drilling into the deep details of how in two of his blog posts: “Brand Measurement: Analytics & Metrics for Branding Campaigns” and “Brand Evangelists Index.”

But while you’re delving into the details of measuring clicks and sales, please keep in mind that the dissonant impression people may have about your company may be the result of your own expenditures.

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