When good brands go bad

The ultimate goal for a company’s marketing department is ubiquity.

You want people to think of your  brand not as  specific product but rather an unremarkable part of their daily existence.

Band-aid and heroin began as registered trademarks but both phrases are so common place you could probably get away with using them in a game of Scrabble.

Measured in these terms, the most successful product in the history of marketing would have to be Google, which has risen from a mere noun to become a verb.

But during the past week two news stories show how brand ubiquity can backfire.

Source: The West Australian

The first example is the West Australian Heart Foundation’s 250 bus shelter advertisements that show a human organ surrounded by toxic fat along with the phrase “You sure you want fries with that?”.

The second instance of unfortunate association is Greenpeace’s TV advertisement for a national recycling scheme.

It begins with a conventionally attractive young woman drinking out of a rather recognisable curved soft drink bottle before hundreds of birds drop out of the sky.

If you can’t guess which pair of multinational corporations complained about these two ads then congratulations, your are officially this blog’s first Amish reader.

In both instances neither the names of the companies nor their corporate logos where used.

They didn’t need to be. The fiendishly pony-tailed marketing geniuses at Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are so successful at embedding their brands in our subconscious that all we need is a familiar phrase or specific shape to evoke recognition.

Like a 1980s movie bully accosting a seemingly frail Chinese man, McDonald’s and Coke have found their strengths used against them.

I have no problem with the business models of these corporate Goliaths but if they are happy to earn billions of dollars using these techniques then they have to accept that a metaphorical David will occasionally come along and crane kick them squarely in the marking budgets.


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