Branding in a Vacuum

Do you think companies have egos? Do you believe they intentionally ignore reality and ask their employees to behave as if competitors don’t exist, and that prospects are blissfully ignorant?

I believe companies actually reflect the egos of top management and their advisors. And that top management ego is the cause of many branding decisions that cause the brand to lose credibility.

Every so often that collective ego can override good business practices, basic marketing tenets and good, old common sense. This is particularly true of branding activities because they can be so subjective. Quite often these leaders will advance, or at least approve, communications at which the general public can only scoff. I’m sure you have seen this in action, and your reaction, just as mine has been, is: “What were they thinking?”.

That brings me to the subject of this blog entry.

In Audi’s latest commercial, they have introduced a superb tagline: “Never Follow”.

Those two words actively position Audi as an innovator, an engineering and style leader. I’m sure Audi management enthusiastically embraced this stance.

But then they had to show the Audi Avant. Holy, cow: it looksa lot like a Chrysler 300. The big grill. The high door panels. The smaller-than-average windows. Let the photos below speak for themselves.

Chrysler-Audi look-alikes

In this particular instance, Audi is a style follower, and we all know style is the major purchase consideration for most of the population. No matter how innovative under the hood the Audi may be, the visual evidence in this 30-second commercial contradicts its claim.

I can hear the folks at Audi approve the tagline without ever considering its plausibility. They know they’re innovative. They don’t perceive themselves to be followers. It probably never occurred to them that prospects would not see the world according to Audi.

So now a perfectly fine automobile is blemished by what prospects (at least this one) see as a disconnect between what Audi wants them to believe and the reality of the contradiction.

Top manager egos are hard to control and many capable people lose their jobs trying. But in today’s competitive environment where a company better be up-front, honest and credible, those in charge need to listen to advisors who will stand up and say, “REALLY?”

Credibility must be present in all branding activities if a company wishes to establish and maintain lasting customer relationships.

Martin Jelsema


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