February 23, 2008

Barney Branding

How come so many brands insist on making nice?

I'm doing some service work for a client and stripping down a brand that was engineered some time ago in another workshop. I'm up to my elbows in feel-good terms and sentiments which leave me feeling anything but positive about the brand. Gooey expressions of love and understanding ooze out of every part of the motor, leaving a right mess on the floor that someone's going to have to clean up.

There's a creeping tendency towards creating well-meaning and inoffensive brands that's especially pervasive in the lifestyle sectors. In these worlds, everyone's a wellwisher. We're all shiny, happy people just wanting to get along.

There's a touch of Barney in these brands. Remember Barney, the purple dinosaur beloved of children of a certain age?

Barney's great! If you're a three year-old. But most of us outgrow Barney, and opt for characters that better reflect the different shades and struggles of life instead.

"I love you. You love me. We're a happy family" makes for compelling children's television but palls a bit when you reach a certain age. Yet many businesses insist on being Barney brands, airbrushing out much of the stuff that makes life difficult, frustrating and challenging (oops, even that last one's become a Barney-word). In doing so, they erase the stuff that makes life compelling.

Of course, we want to believe in happy-ever-afters, but not at the expense of a little reality. The really great brands know what it's like to live in the real world and promise a happy ending by tackling the difficult bits head-on. The other brands just melt away in a puddle of grease when things get rough.

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