Friday, July 03, 2009
An inside job.
There still walk among us ‘branding professionals’ who believe that the consumer will think, feel and do exactly what they’re told, no matter how pointless. This kind of totalitarian arrogance, you’d think, would mostly travel in herds up and down Madison Avenue. Only an overpaid, mojito-soaked, Chuck Taylor-wearing spawn of Don Draper could have the temerity to spend decades and millions teaching one thing to consumers, only to spend millions more changing it in a fit of whimsy worthy of Kim Jong Il. But no. Ad people, at the very least, are accustomed to listening to the marketplace, even if only in the hope of praise. They usually prefer to avoid making trouble unless there’s the possibility of a Cannes Lion involved. No, the last bastion of mid-20th century shut-up-and-listen marketing is the branding consultancy, and one of them has just pulled off the crime of the century.
I’m speaking here, of course, about the announcement this week that Brink’s Home Security will be rebranding itself as Broadview Security. Perhaps you’ve heard of Brink’s? It’s a 150 year-old company in the security business, and one whose brand is practically onomatopoeic in its promise of iron-clad protection. At the end of last year, Brink’s completed the spin-off of its home security business, and though none of the rebranding publicity I’ve found explicitly says so, we can assume that this is why they thought they needed a new name. And scrounged up a reported $120 million to buy one.
And what did all that loot get them? Well, as near as I can tell, it got them a seriously cavalier attitude toward brand equity. I’m not so sure they had to give up the Brink’s name but, if they did, you’d think they would a) Have built a more obvious narrative bridge from the old one to the new one, and b) Have chosen a new one that had the same clanky solidity about it. This brand is, among other things, supposed to be intimidating. As a fellow Twitter citizen @jeff_allgood succinctly put it, “I prefer a sign in my front yard with a name I know. That means the baddies know the name too.” Instead, the new name and logo are opaque, utterly unfamiliar, and self-consciously modern and sophisticated. It’s as if the sheriff has shown up for work in capris.
And the solution to clearing up all this ambiguity? Well, they’re going to advertise, of course. With liberal references – including in their slogan – to the Brink’s name. In other words, they’ll just tell people. That should do it.
It just seems kind of arrogant. And it seems like a terrible missed opportunity.
Why do I care? Well, because I actually think this branding stuff matters. I think there’s more to doing it well than just putting new labels on companies as if brands were ‘Hi, I’m…’ stickers at a speed dating convention. And I think that doing it with integrity is an important pillar holding up the free market. So it’s a setback, a big one, when famous companies toss a brand’s hard-earned goodwill for reasons that seem from here to be arbitrary and cosmetic. Branding ‘experts’ have to remember that most of the value in a brand lies in a consumer’s autonomous willingness to understand, trust and remember it. Treat that as worthless, and one day it will be.
Then, there’ll be nothing left to steal.