07 September 2006

Identifying ourselves with brands

I’m sure we identify ourselves with the brands we wear, carry, consume and use. Or desire. We feel good about them; even feel proud to own them. Which means, there is obviously some connect between us and the brands we use. What that connect is, and how do advertisers and marketers take advantage of it in order to create marketing communication that attracts consumers, are issues that have dogged the best of us from the marketing profession.

Let’s take the TAG Heuer brand for instance (see my previous post) and ask ourselves a few questions: Do we know who we are? Do we know what we are made of? Do we know what relationships we have with the brands we use?

The answer is ‘yes’ every time. Of course, we know – at least, to an extent. If we were to be interrogated intensively (or, perhaps, under hypnosis), we may be able to tell who we really are; explain our actions; or justify the brands we use. Even then, our answers may not correlate with our behaviour in real life. Why not? Is there something wrong with our answers? Well… not wrong, but there is definitely a gap between our understanding of ourselves and who we are. That’s because, knowing who we are requires self-awareness, which is a subject of spirituality, rather than psychology or marketing.

Sure, TAG Heuer can ask us ‘What are you made of?’ and rejoice over the cleverness of their advertising. But answering that question requires us to gaze inwardly towards some mental model we have of ourselves. That isn’t easy because we have several mental models of ourselves, each one quite different from the other; some of them are quite incomprehensible. Psychologists, social scientists, advertising and marketing professionals have been working hard at finding solutions to this, and one possible explanation seems to indicate that the answers go back to our ancestors. That, our ability to recognise ourselves, and explain our present behaviour, has anthropological roots.

What do we mean by this? Well, why not let British Neuropsychologist Paul Broks do the explaining?

“But evolution did not equip us to recognise ourselves. How could it? The mirror is a novel artefact. For most of our history, the most singular emblem of our identity – the face – has been invisible to us.

Recognition of oneself in the mirror requires mental manoeuvres beyond the activities of the brain’s outwardly oriented, automatic face recognition units. It presupposes an inward gaze towards some mental model of the self: in other words, self-awareness. Humans are almost, but not quite, unique in this regard. Before indifference sets in, animals generally react with alarm or curiosity when placed before a mirror. They behave fearfully, aggressively or affiliatively, as if confronted by another animal. Chimpanzees, though, share our fascination with the reflected image.”

[Excerpt from Prospect Magazine article]

Closer home, the advertising and marketing fraternity is also chasing this elusive phenomenon of consumer identification with brands. After all, a brand’s future rests on their ability to make successful consumer-brand connections of the nature TAG Heuer is well-known for. Much of this chase is through brand personality research using anthropomorphic research tools, among many others, based on translated theories of anthropology, human personality and behaviour.

There are many notable models on this subject, but let me mention just one from Young & Rubicam, a leading advertising agency based in New York. According to Young & Rubicam’s BrandAsset®Valuator and The Four Pillars model, a brand’s ‘esteem’, or consumer regard for a brand, reflects a brand’s popularity and perception of quality in the consumer’s mind. In their model, ‘esteem’ is a determining factor (they use the term dimension) in diagnosing a brand’s health, strength and stature.

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