Branding, Its Not Just for Cattle Anymore
Every decade needs a raison detre, or a reason to be. Or to be more exact, a reason to have been. The 50s were the Fonzie years, the 60s the Age of Aquarius, the 70s were the Years We Remember Fondly But Cant Figure Out Why, and the 80s were among the most famous, the Me Decade. The 90s turned out to be the 15 Minutes of Fame years and now, even though its early, the 00s are showing signs of going down in history as the Branding Years. And thats not a reference to the burgeoning sado-masochistic movement.
Branding, for those who slept through Business Buzz Words 101, is the idea that if you have a name -- and who doesnt? -- its important to make sure everyone knows it. Its not important that they know what you do, what you make, why they should care, or whether youre about to join K-Mart and Enron in bankruptcy, just so long as they recognize the name. Its the modern corollary to the old saying, "Any publicity is good publicity." Of course Arthur Anderson, Osama bin Laden, and Cardinal Bernard Law might argue the truth of that adage.
Branding is why Coca Cola, which has the most recognized product name in the world, can cash in by putting out Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke, and Vanilla Coke. And hope no one remembers New Coke. Its why McDonalds puts "Mc" in front of everything they sell, including McChicken, McRibs, and Supersized McFat Calories. And it works. According to Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, the Golden Arches are more widely known throughout the world than the Christian cross. Except maybe by young Catholic boys who have recurring nightmares.
Now companies have decided that if you recognize a name youll buy anything to which its attached. Thats why you can fill your shopping cart with Smuckers jelly beans, Pez-flavored popcorn, and soon, Starkist mouthwash in both chunk light and solid Albacore. Theyve discovered that recognizability trumps originality and quality, which also explains why there are so many sequels. Why try to convince people to see a movie or read a book they never heard of when you can attach a number to the end of a title they know and people will say, "Hey, I didnt fall sleep during Friday the 13th Part IX, so why not go see Part X?" But come on, its ridiculous to let a series go that long. I mean, its very unsettling not to know whether to call it "Part X" or "Part 10." Please folks, stop at nine from now on, will you?
Books arent exempt either. Gone With the Wind begat Scarlet, Red Dragon begat The Silence of the Lambs which begat Hannibal, and poor J.K. Rowling will never be able to write a book without Harry Potter being in it, even if it means turning out Harry Drops Out of College -- The Sorcerer Gets Stoned.
Now companies are using their brand names for items far beyond the original product line because they believe a well known name defines a profit -- I mean, defines a lifestyle. Pepsi and Mountain Dew both have lines of clothing, one with a retro look, the other for Xtreme armchair surfer dude wannabes. Face it, nothing says individual fashion statement like having a soft drink logo on your butt.
Theyd better be careful though. Familiarity breeds boredom. Years ago you could find the Lacoste alligator on every article of clothing imaginable but not anymore. Now its the Nike swoosh. And with celebrities popping up all over the place the same thing can happen to them. Its not enough that we see them in movies and on TV shows where they belong, theyre also in commercials, print ads, all over Entertainment Tonight, in our dreams -- uh, maybe we shouldnt go there, and as voices in our head. Its true. Whereas radio and TV commercials used to be recorded by specialized voice talent -- except for the occasional celebrity endorsement -- now we get to hear Roz from Frasier, Martin Sheen, and Bruce Dern on every second commercial. Maybe its because they do a good job, but I suspect its actually because someone thinks that if you hear Roz youll subliminally want to tune in a rerun of Frasier. Then theres the subliminal clue it gives about the product. I dont know about you, but Im sure thats why every time I hear a Hyundai commercial I think, "My, what a kind-hearted yet sexually promiscuous car that must be!"
Movie stars have taken over cartoons too. Where specialized actors used to create fun, unique character voices, now we get to watch feature-length cartoons in which everyone sounds like an identifiable celebrity. If they were creating them now Donald Duck would sound like Eddie Murphy, Elmer Fudd would be Robin Williams, and Betty Rubble would be Whoopi Goldberg.
As if thats not enough, now we can see celebrities when were shopping too, and we dont have to go to Rodeo Drive to do it. In a case of life imitating art -- okay, imitating a TV show anyway -- two New York City companies have come out with celebrity mannequins. No, theyre not Elaine from Seinfeld, theyre of supermodels Christy Turlington and Erin OConnor. This isnt the first time theyve done this. In the 60s they made mannequins that looked like Twiggy but had to stop because people kept asking why they were putting clothes on coat trees.
So dont be surprised when you see a line of Xtreme Mad Dog clothing, hear my voice each time Clutch Cargo opens his mouth in the upcoming full-length feature, or come across a coupon for Mad Dog Beef Jerky (slogan: "It takes a real jerk to make jerky this good."). Hey, if its good enough for Coke and Eddie Murphy, its good enough for me.
More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If Its Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org