at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Branding: faking it vs. making it

In Brands, communications, marketing, strategy on November 24, 2008 at 6:58 am

There is a quote that comes to mind that goes something like, “character is who you are when no one is watching.” This seems apt to describe branding at times. There are many brands that put on a good show in communications, packaging, environments only to let consumers down when they least expect it. Some of us have had friends like this in our lives, but how many of those relationships continue to prosper after we’ve been let down?

Brand relationships are about delivering an experience through all of the brand’s touch points. I won’t even go so far as to say that it has to be a consistent experience because I think branding is changing. But it does have to be a unified experience.

I’ve posted the above picture of GHIRADELLI Hot Chocolate as an example of how not to sustain a brand. For those who don’t know, GHIRADELLI is a premium chocolate brand out of San Francisco. As such you would expect brand attributes such as refined, sophisticated, luxurious and crafted to be part of their story. Note, these aren’t differentiated characteristics but rather table-stakes in the premium category.

The external packaging represents these characteristics and helps to validate the price point which you are bound to pay on a supermarket shelf. Once you make the purchase though, you are confronted with a food service, mass market brand on the inside. Why GHIRADELLI decided to pay a design firm for the external packaging and didn’t throw the internal pouch into the brief is beyond me. Did they think that it wasn’t important or that no one would notice?

I would argue that the experience arch for this brand actually peaks when the pouch is torn open and the product is made. By that account the internal packaging is more important to the brand while the external packaging may still be more important to sales. But, to my earlier point, the brand’s character is defined when it doesn’t think anyone is looking. Or perhaps better stated, “a brand’s character is defined when it isn’t selling.”

  1. Bailey’s Irish Cream goes well with Hot Chocolate, maybe they should sell the space to a co-op brand if they didn’t have enough money to pay the designer.

  2. There you go with your ideas again making me thirsty…it’s cold in NYC…I only wish that I didn’t spill the pack when I was taking that picture.

  3. While I agree the lack of attention to the interior packaging is a real missed opportunity, I believe the real test of brand character is whether the product itself delivered on “refined, sophisticated, luxurious and crafted.”

  4. Thanks for your comment. I agree with the idea that the product has to pass muster and support the brand prop but I also think that those particular attributes are quite subjective. I think about it as if I was looking at a cashmere sweater. It can be soft, warm, the fit can be great, but if the stitching is off then I’ll assume the quality is off. I think of the internal packaging like the stitching. Even if the attributes are there in the product, I’ll assume that it’s truly not that great…unless you are Trader Joe’s, then strangely I’ll make an exception…

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