Whether you are a marketer by profession or you took a couple of marketing courses in university, chances are you may have heard the saying that ‘brands are like people’. The intent behind this statement is the fact that for companies to capture market share they need to build meaningful relationships with their customers by giving their brands human values and traits.
However, the purpose of this piece is not to talk about the concept of brand personification (although I am curious to know the persona of a brand like Gogo Pan Masala); rather it is to draw parallels between brands and the people we meet in our lives. Like people, we are exposed to many brands; some are transitory and others stay for longer; some have a minimal impact on our lives, whereas others play a crucial role in our development and actually grow and evolve with us. This got me thinking about some of the iconic brands that entered my life at various stages; some stayed, while others left.
As children, the decision to choose a product is made by our parents, but as we grew into adolescence, we start to make our own decisions (at times much to the dismay of our parents). One of the first brands I really wanted to own as a student was a JanSport bag. All the cool kids had one. It took me longer than most to get my hands on one, but I eventually did and it helped me through most of my schooling; but that is where our relationship ended.
The company continued to focus on one specific target market of young adolescents and I soon became disenfranchised from it in the face of sleeker and more refined products. The brand became like one of those friends you make in school and think you will be friends with for life, until you graduate and you both go your separate ways - and as the distance grows you realise you had different values and interests. I do miss him occasionally; it brings back memories of a simpler time.
Then there is a legend that stood the test of time. Perhaps one of the coolest people you will ever meet; you looked up to him and wondered if you would ever be cool enough to be friends with. If you haven’t figured it out, I am referring to the greatest sportswear brand ever: Nike. Growing up in the nineties, like many kids I first heard of Nike because of the Michael Jordan endorsement. The brand’s communication made it seem like the secret to MJ’s seemingly superhuman abilities was in the Nike shoes he wore – and I desperately wanted a pair.
Unfortunately, Nike was a premium brand and I was a 5th grader with a daily allowance of Rs. 30, so it took us a few years to meet.
However, since then there has been no looking back. The brand is positioned to inspire and continuously motivate you to push your limits and be a better version of yourself, like a true friend and mentor. Unlike some of Nike’s main competitors at the time, like Reebok, the brand was able to successfully evolve and maintain its ‘cool’ factor by building a community of loyalists that lend it support and fuel its constant innovations and endorsements.
Moving on from a brand that makes you fitter to one that makes you fatter. McDonald’s has to be among the most iconic food brands of our generation. It is like one of those cousins you have the most fun with, but you know their company is not always what is best for you - but they are just so much fun! From the golden arches, the smiling Ronald McDonald, the colourful play spaces to the happy meals with the collectible toys, there was something really magical about the brand that enabled it to attract millions of kids around the world.
In the initial days of my interaction with McDonald’s, everything, from the fun and vibrant architecture to their communication, was targeted towards a younger audience. However, over the years they have evolved their aesthetics and communication to cater to a more mature audience. Their outlets are a more sombre shade of grey and they have ditched the iconic roof for a more contemporary design. Whereas their advertisements often depict adults and values that are synonymous with my current stage of life, at this age any attempt at fitting into my clothes and a healthier lifestyle prevents us from meeting as often as I would like, but our relationship remains one based on love and understanding and we usually pick up from where we left off.
Last but certainly not the least is a brand that probably had the most profound impact on my generation - Disney. From the cartoons, to the movies, to the TV channels, the amusement parks and much, much more, Disney is like a favourite uncle. The sort who takes you out, makes you laugh when your parents scold you and teaches you valuable life lessons from a young age. Even though we may have grown older, the magic of Disney and their stories remains timeless and in a stroke of genius their recent strategy of recreating their classic cartoons into feature films not only appealed to new audiences, it also brought great nostalgic value to previous generations.
Above are just a few of the iconic brands that made an impact on the story of my life. There are many others that deserve mention. Truth is, many more will come (hopefully the likes of Mercedes and Rolex, even though I don’t relate much with the latter, it would still be nice to own one, for conversations sake) and go in the course of our lives. And in an increasingly fickle world, what makes brands like Nike, McDonald’s and Disney so endearing is their ability to understand the changing demographics and psychographics of their market, reinvent their image when required, align their values and adapt their stories to fit the different stages of a consumer’s life. This is what has enabled them to make meaningful and lasting relationships compared to their competition. As for me, as brand loyal as I am, I love meeting new people and forming new bonds.
Which brands did you grow up with? Let me know in the comments below!
Shahzeb is a business graduate from IBA and LUMS and works in product and brand management for various local and foreign companies. His areas of interest include brands, digital marketing and e-commerce.