Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Know Your Enemies and Attack Them

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Know Your Enemies and Attack Them

Article excerpt

Although it pains me to admit it, even my MBA students eventually get sick of me. When I teach brand management, I try to bring in three or four speakers each term to add a different perspective and, frankly, give the students a rest from yours truly.

This is no easy thing to do. A classroom in a leading business school bears no resemblance to the giant lecture theatres of universities, filled with undergraduate supplicants either sleeping or eagerly transcribing every syllable. The world's top MBA programmes are filled with managers in their mid-30s, who are brighter than you and who have paid pounds 40,000 for their studies.

Most are distinct alpha personality types who find it hard to accept being educated (even for an hour) by someone they perceive to be less experienced than they are, and this often leads to difficult and unsparing interrogations. Finding guest speakers from marketing who can survive in this context, let alone impress, can be tricky.

So it was with some trepidation this year that I invited Helen Edwards, a partner at brand consultancy Passionbrand, into the MBA arena to talk about her company and approach to branding. A former MBA student herself, Helen knew what she was in for. She gave a wonderful talk about the research that Passionbrand has conducted on why some brands have become wildly successful. One trait she identified particularly grabbed my attention: have an enemy.

One of the things that Passionbrand has observed from its quantitative and qualitative investigations is that strong brands are not afraid to take a stance or make enemies.

The traditional logic of brand management was built on low negatives: brands attempted to engender positive feelings from as many people as possible while avoiding any antagonism or potential crisis.

So the idea of brands picking sides and occasionally even seeking out conflict is a radical one, but it makes perfect strategic sense. Rather than attempting to build a brand through the singular communication of what you stand for, why not supplement this by being very clear on what you do not represent and who, specifically, you are against?

Last week a perfect example of this branding tactic emerged. The Bush administration is currently intent on defending the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which was blocked in 2004 by the US Supreme Court on the grounds of free speech. …

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