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Brand Associations: Consistency Is King


Brand Associations: Consistency Is King

When you boil it all down, there really is only one enduring challenge in managing a brand.

Once a brand has been positioned, you spend your days making sure that everything it is associated with in the target consumer’s mind is consistent with that position. In theory it’s as simple as that. In practice, of course, when you are dealing with global brands with millions of customers and multiple campaigns, it can prove a lot trickier than theory suggests.

For example, on the eve of the last summer Olympics when Adidas announced that one of the athletes to feature in its ‘Impossible is nothing’ campaign would be Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou, everything looked brand-consistent. Five weeks and about £5m of global advertising later, the Adidas slogan took on an altogether more unfortunate connotation. It does not get much worse than a brand attempting to go in one direction while its image heads 180 degrees the other way.

Often brand managers are confronted with an association that proves not only unintended but directly contradictory to the planned brand positioning.

The branding team at British Airways has experienced their fair share of this. The threat and then the reality of thousands of stranded passengers spending hours in crowded terminals directly contradicted the theme of its branding: bringing families together. So great was the gap between brand-sponsored communication and customer reality that BA withdrew a great deal of planned advertising at significant cost to the company.

But it would be a mistake to assume that every product crisis or misbehaving athlete immediately spells disaster for a brand.

Lurid allegations that Wayne Rooney had visited a prostitute on several occasions caused his fiancee to throw away her £25,000 engagement ring. It also prompted Coca-Cola to review, but eventually retain, its sponsorship of the footballer. Was Rooney’s behavior shameful and illegal?

Yes. Was it damaging to either the Rooney brand or that of Coke? No.

As the resulting statement from Coca-Cola pointed out: ‘The recent revelations about his private life are inconsistent with Coca-Cola values.’

Inconsistent, however, is not the same as contradictory. His sponsorship deal was safe, provided he kept scoring – for his club, rather than with prostitutes, that is.

Which brands suffer the most? It’s really a matter of fate. In some rare instances a crisis or a sponsored athlete’s misbehavior can actually result in brand-consistent messages and increased publicity. Just because someone behaves badly does not necessarily mean that they hurt the brand.

When David Beckham’s alleged affair with Rebecca Loos made headlines the fact that much of this relationship, according to the reports, was carried out by text message could only be good news for Vodafone.

The mobile operator has had very little idea what it stands for as a brand except that it is ubiquitous and technically adept. The press articles referring to Beckham’s textual intercourse probably bolstered Vodafone’s brand equity rather than damaged it. Despite the apocalyptic headlines about the death of the ‘Beckham brand’, he went on to sign a 12-month contract with Vodafone.


– Katerina Thanou and fellow Greek sprinter Costas Kenteris withdrew from the 2004 Athens Olympics after a mysterious motorbike accident and missed drugs test.

– Adidas’ ‘Impossible is nothing’ campaign was produced by its global ad agency 180/TBWA. The ads featured past and present Olympians and, according to creative director Richard Bullock, were designed as ‘a tribute to all those people who turn up every four years and refuse to accept the limits set by others’.

– David Beckham’s sponsorship agreement with Vodafone was renewed for a reported fee of £1m.

– The Sun reported that Coleen McLoughlin, Wayne Rooney’s fiancee, had discarded her ring at the Formby Point nature reserve. Debbie Peers of the National Trust said she feared the rare red squirrels in the reserve would be harmed by treasure hunters in the park.

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1 Comment

Scott White on August 04th, 2008 said

Another issue to deal with besides brand identity and image is internal branding. You’re spot on with identity and image but I think a bigger concern is employee perception vs brand identity. If employee’s are saying or doing something different than the corporate brand identity you’ll also have major issues.

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