Thursday, 26 August 2010

When brands go to war

For me, the term "brand fan" isn't a compliment. Like "fashion victim", it's practically an insult. Who would want to be labelled as a mere passive consumer of shiny trinkets, mindlessly following the herd and reflexively salivating whenever an advertising executive rings the appropriate bell?

There's lots of stuff out there. Some of it works a bit better or looks a bit better than other stuff. That's all I need to know about it. End of. Time to think about something more interesting.

It is (IMHO) pitiful to take more than a passing interest in brands and desperately sad to be thought of as having a "relationship" with a brand. On the other hand, some of the techniques used by brand managers to manipulate consumers are quite entertaining to watch.

Here's a good one - identify an unpopular celebrity, then send that that celebrity free samples of your competitors' branded apparel, in the hope that they are seen wearing it and damage the brand. Evil genius! More details here (via). I am, by the way, extremely proud to say that I don't know or care who the alleged celebrity known as "Snooki" is.

Sadly for evil brand managers* of the Cruella DeVil school, I can see a potential flaw in this approach. It seems to me that in a society that sets the bar for celebrity so low and which seems to regard any publicity as good publicity, there are people out there who will want to buy anything associated with somebody who they've seen on telly. Never mind the fact that the person may only be famous for being an annoying twit on some reality TV show - they're famous and somebody out there will want to buy stuff just because it's associated with a celebrity.

Is there any group of celebrities so despised that they'd automatically poison any brand they touched? Disgraced British politicians got a pretty rough ride following the recent expenses scandal.** Unfortunately, even the dumbest MP might now think twice before flashing freebie designer goods in the public's face.

Disgraced ex-politicians and their hangers-on might seem a better choice, but the famous ones are brazen enough to turn their notoriety into celebrity. It's well over a decade since disgraced "cash for questions" MP Neil Hamilton became synonymous with political sleaze. Unabashed, Hamilton and his wife Christine lost almost no time in trading on their ill-earned celebrity, popping up on a classic edition of "Have I got News for You" with their grisly "greedy chump and his bossy wife" double act, grinning inanely as Angus Deayton pretended to give them their "fee" in plain brown envelopes. 

For Christine Hamilton, being the publicity-hogging wife of a seedy sleazebag was enough to launch a career of media celebrity that continues to this day, from the "The Christine Hamilton Show", via "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" and "The Book of British Battleaxes", to her latest incarnation as a ghastly mashup of Aunt Agatha and gastro-porn star in this year's "Celebrity Masterchef". If you sent the wretched woman a designer handbag, no doubt hordes of morons would want to buy one just the same. 

The dirty world of negative branding sounds like great fun but, regrettably, I won't be making a career of it. I just don't think I could stoop low enough find a celeb tacky enough to be a guaranteed brand-killer.

*Come to think of it, is there any other sort of brand manager?

** Fiddling their expenses was wrong, but the scale of their wrongdoing and its effect on the rest of society was minuscule compared with the careless, greedy, profligate, economy-wrecking crimes of the financial services industry, which were quickly forgotten once MPs started hogging the headlines with their taxpayer-funded plasma TVs, second home allowances and moat-cleaning bills..