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Brand Skeptics

Today’s brands are “so keen on dispelling skepticism that they end up reinforcing it,” reports The Economist (2/1/14). Kingsley Amis, for instance, takes on the pretension of certain other brands with its slogan, ‘Makes You Drunk,’ to try and draw a line versus “Guinness’s blather on about the true nature of human character, and so on … An ad for FirstBank, of Colorado, showed a new leather sofa and a television in the middle of a square, with a large sign saying: ‘Free’. People strolled by, ignoring the bounty. A voice-over asks: ‘What if ‘free’ really just means ‘free’?”

Consumer skepticism is perhaps not surprising given that the average Westerner sees about 3,000 logos a day. Havas Media last summer published a worldwide survey of “134,000 consumers in 23 countries” that “asked what they thought of 700 brands. A majority of those taking part would not care if 73% of them just vanished. In Europe and America 92% would not be missed. Only in places like Asia and Latin America, with lots of newish consumers, is there a bit more attachment to brands, though Havas Media reports that it is declining there too.”

This leaves some brands scrambling to find a fresh point of connection, with many trying to cut through with ads engineered to go viral. However, sometimes the harder brands try to connect with consumers, the more they get into trouble. Hyundai, for example, experienced some backlash when it ran an ad intended to promote “its vehicles’ lack of noxious emissions by depicting someone attempting suicide,” while KFC may have done more harm than good with an ad for boneless chicken that some saw as racist, and others as some kind of dirty joke. (video)