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Running head: CHEETOS LIP BALM
Obsessive Branding Disorder: From Harley Davidson Cake Decorating Kits to Cheetos Lip Balm Jeff Bennett Queens University of Charlotte June 11, 2009
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Obsessive Branding Disorder: From Harley Davidson Cake Decorating Kits to Cheetos Lip Balm There is no doubt that American companies suffer from an “obsessive branding disorder”. The disorder has sent companies into a tailspin that has forced them to spend, sacrifice and sell their souls. Each year companies spend billions of dollars on the branding of their products in order to remain successful in the market place. Through branding the focus of many companies has shifted from product innovation to fancy new packaging, corporate partnerships and brand extensions. The branding revolution has also lead companies down a slippery slope when it comes to the ethics of dealing with potential customers. There are many corporate lessons to be learned as companies progress through the branding mine fields of life. The success that many businesses will see in the future must consist of a gentle balance between branding, product innovation and responsible creativity. As an organization sets out to create its identity it must keep in mind much of what Conley shares. Branding has become a disorder and even some of the professions biggest stars recognize this. When Don Child, the vice president and chief creative officer at laga, describes his own home town he speaks of “a green, lush community. There’s kind of a Mayberry feel to it” “There’s no branding. It’s pure” (Conley, 2008, p.37). If Child is correct and no branding is pure that leads me to believe that the obsessive branding many companies are engaged in must be impure and therefore harmful. There was a time when companies would focus on putting out a quality product to make money and boost their sales. Based on the opinions shared throughout the book there seems to be a shift away from that and a new focus placed on the branding
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or rebranding of an inferior product. This is a major part of the disorder that Conley writes about. As he mentions, many companies are taking on the philosophy of “rather than investigating a better formula for motor oil, why not simply change the shape of the bottle? And instead of actually improving the anti-wrinkle cream, give it a new name (Conley, 2008, p. 47)”. It is my belief that this method of rebranding will allow companies to survive in the short term but will eventually destroy their long term prosperity. The success they are seeing on the balance sheets is nothing more than a mirage. As Conley puts it “they are banking on illusions, not innovation, to stay alive (Conley, 2008, p. 41)”. The branding of items in fancy packing can surely sell product. However there is cause for alarm. Conley states that “if the design is good enough, the product is less important in the overall equation (Conley, 2008, p. 77). The idea that the American public is forced to settle for an inferior product in a shiny packaging leads me to see there is a disorder that is effecting the business community. Another frightening part of this disorder is that companies throughout the United States are spending money at an alarming rate to put out substandard products. According to Conley “in 2008 an estimated $654 billion will be spent on branding-nearly $300 billion of it in the United State” (Conley, 2008, p. 3). There has also been a shift towards the pairing of well established brands and the expansion of certain brands into fields totally different from their own to boost sales of a sagging product. It is my opinion that this way of think is very near sighted and a contributor to the disorder. The benefits of joining two companies together can boost the sales temporarily but what happens when the glow wears off? Can FOX News Corp. really make a living off of selling burgers? And shouldn’t we be watching ESPN and not
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eating it? Conley tells us about “a ridiculous array of products inspired by brand extremism: Ferrari-brand computers, Play-Doh-brand scented perfume, Chicken Soup for the Soul – brand pet food (Conley, 2008, p. 61) He goes on to mention some of the worst brand extensions, and some of my personal favorites, Harley-Davidson-brand cake decorating kits and Cheetos-brand lip balm. On their own they are some great American products, but paired together they now create the sort of items that must be shopped for in the Frankenstein aisle at the local Wal-Mart. What’s next Prada dog food? Obsessive behaviors have led companies down a path where future decision making will force organizations to wrestle with ethical choices when it comes to the branding of their products. It is simply stated by Conley, “Branding is corrupting our culture by heralding emotion over reason, surface over core substance, and packaging over experience (Conley, 2008, p. 197)”. With new technologies companies will be able to further infiltrate our lives and at the same time making their presence less known. The development of sensory branding and neuromarketing are two ways that companies can and will be able to influence our decision making in the future. The experimenting that is being done with these technologies today is concerning to me and lead me to wonder if this is ethical. Conley goes a step further and asks the question “What is technology advanced to the point where advertisements peered back at us? What if they could read our faces and assess our moods? Would they send us ads for coffee when we look tired, or commercials for antidepressants if we look blue? What if the technology already exists? (Conley, 2008, p.169-170)” I believe that the quest to sell to the masses will surely lead companies down the road to brand at all costs. This is
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surely proof that the companies of today are out of control and fighting with an obsessive branding disorder. As companies move forward in the future there are many lessons that can be learned from the obsessive branding behaviors of the present. For one, companies must remember not to discard their innovative ways of thinking. As stated by Conley “American companies are turning to this type of illusory branding in order to keep their products on the shelves of high volume big-box retailers. The shift is taking its toll: once the most innovative in the world by far, US companies are losing ground fast to less expensive Asian brands and private label goods (Conley, 2008, p. 40)”. Branding has become the quick fix for big businesses. I think about the story of the tortoise and the hare and the handwriting is on the wall for future failures. There is a real chance for disappointment if companies continue to use the thought process further expressed by Conley, “Why dump money into R&D for an uncertain, expensive, and ultimately fleeting advantage? After all, branding is quick, easy to change, and more reliable (Conley, 2008, p. 53)”. As the foundation of many companies is constructed through obsessive branding with quick, cheap and easy tactics they should be aware of the future they are creating. As companies shape their identity they must be aware of all the effects, both positive and negative, that branding has on them. Companies are sending messages everyday through their branding efforts. Based upon what I have read in OBD it seems as though companies have gone from using branding to help focus their identity to a point where the branding has become the identity. This is concerning because the business of branding is very unstable and controlled by a select few. “According to
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Jerry Kathman, LPK’s president and CEO, roughly five thousand people around the world create the look of 90 percent of what American’s buy (Conley, 2008, p. 19)”. And as Conley tells us “Like a mad game of musical chairs, brands hop from one firm to the next. Frequent leadership changes at the brands themselves play no small part in the confusion (Conley, 2008, p. 59)”. It is within this confusion that the general public has the potential to be harmed by the branding minority. Branding is out of control but will most likely be a big part of our future. As companies continue to position themselves for future success branding continues to be the cheap, quick easy fix they need to keep them near the top. Until another viable option becomes available either by technological advances or public outcry the branders will keep branding!
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Reference Conley, L. (2008). OBD Obsessive branding disorder: The illusions of business and the business of illusion. New York: Public Affairs
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