Brand associations: be careful of the company you keep

This week it was announced that a pilot program will allow advertisers to expose an ad message to airline passengers through the medium of airport security tubs that pass through the X-ray with your belongings. The message is silk-screened to the inside of the tub, so as you unload your computer, shoes and whatever else required by any given alert, you can read the advertisement.

Now I need to ask you, is this an appropriate medium for your brand to be associated with? Would you consider advertising in airport tubs if you had a relevant message?

If my pocket knive/nail file had just been confiscated, I might find an ad for Swiss Army Knives timely. But after that incident, I’m not in any mood to receive a message reminding me of my loss. I’d judge Victorinox (the company behind Swiss Army Knives) to be opportunistic and I’d resent that as much as the fact I have had to wait in lines, get to the airport three hours before a flight, and then have my property taken from me. I’m not in the mood. Being exposed to ads in this captive situation does not enamor the advertiser to me.

A lot of entrepreneurs have invented unique advertising media. Think public toilet doors, for instance. They’ver also promoted all sorts of opportunities for advertisers to “display their wares” – events, organizations, odd and unexpected “billboards”. It’s part of the whole “experential marketing” craze.

In just about every opportunity to either use a unique medium, co-brand, sponsor an event or associate with a personality, you have to ask, “Will this association be appropriate for the brand?”

Some associations might look great on paper, but a little digging might prove otherwise. Here’s an example: about a year ago, Sweet’N Low embraced the Pink Panther as its advertising mascot. But remember where that panter’s been – for many years associated with Owens-Corning insulation. So I begin to associate Sweet’N Low with asbestos. That’s where my mind goes. (Yes, I have a long and perverse memory.) I haven’t seen that campaign in several months now.

So before you sponsor or participate or advertise, think of the ramifications of the association. Be sure it fits your brand and its image, that it conveys the right message to your market, in the right context and with the right associations.

Martin Jelsema

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