Posts Tagged 'brand marketing'

Cultural Appropriation and Brand Advertisements: What Could Go Wrong?

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For PR folks, the Ford Superbowl LII ad for Dodge pickups raises the issue, if not of diversity, then of extrapolation without context. The ad came under fire almost immediately for using excerpts from one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major” speeches, under compelling visuals, to promote the pickup brand. While not among the most offensive examples of commercial appropriation, it does raise questions of corporate insensitivity and points to the dangers of perhaps well-intended marketing folks extrapolating information—even for well-intended, though nonetheless brand-promotion purposes—without a full appreciation and context for what’s being used. Let’s examine more closely why this is a good case in point of good intentions backfiring.

Clearly, the focus of the ad is serving—humanity helping humanity at all levels of the human experience. What could be wrong with that? Next point is that the ad was an obvious bow to our nation’s recognition of February as the “official” African-American history month, ergo, the use of Dr. King’s thought-provoking words and speech. The problem with juxtaposing the two ideas into a commercial spot for trucks is more clearly spelled out in this story originally from the Washington Post. Bottom line, Dr. King goes on in this same speech to talk about the dangersImage result for dr. king public domain of materialism, and particularly uses the purchase of expensive vehicles as an example. The context would surely be a double-edged sword for a commercial message, especially for an automaker.

Many found the ad insensitive, at the least, even without knowing the full context or full speech. The clear lesson for PR, advertising and marketing folks, once again, is before adopting cultural messages and touchstones into brand ads, be sure you understand the full context.

Leveraging Your Experience to Create A Personal Brand

What makes a brand legendary? A superior product? Innovative operations? Marketing creativity? Is it all of the above, or any one of them? These became burning questions in our minds when we recently read that Starbucks—you know, the famous coffee-comfort company with 20,000 stores worldwide—is considering leveraging its intellectual property as yet another revenue stream for the prosperous company. The company won’t be abandoning its roots in coffee; it’s simply planning to leverage what they’ve learned about marketing through mobile apps, mobile payments, and loyalty cards  via the coffee business,  to perhaps benefit other companies. So what can we learn from this for our own branding efforts.

First thought that comes to mind, recall Oprah Winfrey’s famous dictum, paraphrased here: These are the things I know for sure …

The seed of your personal brand lies in the amalgam of stories and experience you’ve gleaned and all the lessons you’ve learned from previous activity. Packaged cleverly and with authenticity, these represent the seeds of your brand , and they have value. To get started:

Identify Your Brand

Ask yourself, what do I know for sure? What do I know that’s been affirmed by experience? What’s the depth of that experience? How is it different from the experience offered up by others? Working through these elemental questions will establish the foundation for your brand?

Position Your Brand

Once you’ve identified the essential elements of your brand—in PR, for example, you’ll want to look for a distinct niche. Do you work primarily in one industry? Healthcare, telecommunications, arts and entertainment, financial? Do you specialize in a specific area, or sub-specialty of public relations—media relations, public affairs, event planning, media production? Or, is your overall breadth of knowledge, contacts, experience so valuable that it distinguishes you from the rest of the field. If so, perhaps that’s your differentiation. Whatever the difference may be, you’ll need to spell it out for others in some comprehensible way. Common methods for distinguishing these brand attributes can be vision, core values, networks and contacts, access to  key targets, etc. At the end of the positioning phase, though, you’ll need to package your brand, and promote it.

Package Your Brand

Just as a company does, after you’ve identified the elements of your brand and established a clear differentiation from others offering similar services or attributes, a critical next step is the packaging of the brand: the perceivable cues that will make your brand identifiable and, hopefully, broaden its appeal. These include visual elements, including logo, as well as tagline, nomenclature associated with your identity. Choose carefully. These will become the tangible representations of your brand.

Promote Your Brand

There’s no better and more accessible form of promotion today than social media. Nearly everyone can use it. But to promote effectively, you have to understand the platforms and tools. So if you’re not already on social, get started. The immediacy of the feedback will be both revealing and rewarding. And to use social media effectively, you’ve got to know a little about SEO, keywords, and optimizing your copy for search. Remember, also, though that in the real world, your personal brand goes with you always. Keep in mind that what you say, do, how you say it, and how you present yourself all work towards [or against] building a powerful personal brand. No one knows your brand better than you, but here’s our final advice on promotion: keep it authentic.

Refining Your Brand

Endless iterations of sharpening, improving, repackaging and reassessing your brand. Reviewing over and over the same questions outlined above, tweaking, challenging, modifying and even forgoing certain aspects of your brand that may need to be adjusted over time. Acquiring news skills, moving .

What Is Your Personal Brand?

None of this is simple or easy. If it were, everyone would have a viable personal brand. What makes a brand marketable is the endless interplay of knowledge, experience, positioning, packaging, promotion, and redefinition that is the alchemy of life. For our closing note, we highly recommend this article of 38 tips from top bloggers. To our way of thinking, these bloggers pretty much cover the waterfront in terms of good advice on building a personal brand [through blogs]. If you’re looking for a quick primer on personal branding [and blogging], it’s right here:

Reclaiming A Brand: The PR Story of Velcro

Xerox did it. Kleenex did it. Post-its did it. Now Twinkies, among others, are working to do it. The “it” here is reclaiming a brand from potential generic usage and, in the process, losing a valuable business trademark. Now VELCRO is working to do it. We all know what “velcro” is—that incredibly handy fastening device used to seal and unseal everything from shoes, bags, backpacks, briefcases, coats, swimsuits, scuba wear, household devices, and even disposable diapers.

hook and loop

Velcro-style hook and hoop fastener

Well, what many may not be aware is that VELCRO is a company and a brand, not just a fastening material—categorically known as ‘hook and loop’ fasteners. So now, in case you missed the previous rebranding campaigns cited above, here’s another opportunity to watch a global company as it embarks on a rebranding effort  to “snatch back” its singular identity in the public mind. It’s a fascinating public relations and marketing case study, not to be missed.

For starters, here’s a few things to know:

VELCRO kicked off its rebranding initiative in March, 2012 with a public announcement and the unveiling of its Brand website:

As the larger campaign unfolds, it is perhaps just now just coming into public awareness, with online advertising and stronger social media presence.

Velcro ad

As we said, this will be a very interesting campaign to watch. See if it changes your own understanding and behavior.

Also, for the fun of it, here’s a list of other companies who’ve had to travel down this same rebranding path, albeit, perhaps not so successfully. Keep in mind, for us it might seem like the game of “Trivial Pursuit”; for these companies, it’s big and serious business!

Note: We’re riding a trend! Shortly after we published this post, we found these  write-ups on similar campaigns underway with Xerox ( and Twinkies (, also mentioned in our story. All are worth checking out for the hows & whys and lessons learned.


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