Bastard was the right word. If I were to say ‘Branding’s a Bitch’, I’d have picked the wrong word.
‘Branding’s a Bitch’ implies that it’s hard work, that it’s vengeful, that it’s bitter. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s all of those things. If an athlete gets busted for drugs or doping, their brand is tarnished forever. Michael Phelps rips a bong and he loses millions in sponsorships. Years of dedicated work undone in an instant. They actually polled big businesses to see the most important credential they look for in an athlete to sponsor. The top factor wasn’t championships, physique, intellect. No, overwhelmingly the most important factor they look for is ‘does not do drugs’.
Years, decades of branding can be undone in a day. Then branding’s a bitch.
Sometimes, however, branding is only too easy. Sometimes it is so easy that it can’t be stopped. And more often than not, then it becomes a bastard....
When you boil branding right down, it’s a way for people to tell you who they are. People want a way to stand out. To be unique. To show people who they are and what they represent.
They do that with products and organisations they trust. Wearing Nike shows you strive to be victorious. A Che Guevarra shirt shows you’re left wing. A Rolex shows accumulated success and class. A Tapout shirt shows everyone you’re a douchebag. You get the idea.
Well how about smoking? I think that besides religion (don’t get me started), smoking is without a doubt the best piece of branding ever done by an industry. Why? Because it’s f*cking impervious. And it’s being a bastard.
Tobacco in the fifties and sixties was what cool people did. It’s what actors did; it’s what successful businessmen did. It’s not rocket science to see how it got big. But they told people it was bad for you in the seventies.
Smoking has literally been bad for you for nearly fifty years. And people still smoke. Why? Because smoking has adapted, and the strategies to stop it haven’t. Smoking is a brand, and anti-smoking options aren’t.
Saying 'it harms you' is offering an opportunity to live on the edge.
What has making the packaging ugly done? Not a lot. Why? Because you don’t buy your first cigarette. The first thing you associate with cigarette branding is the same white cylinder with the orange tip it’s been since it existed. And you get it from someone you look up to. That’s how it works. You don’t buy cigarettes until you need them. And who cares what the risks or packaging are by then?
Upping the price? Close but no cigar (sorry for the awful pun). It’s inelastic demand the same as petrol, people will buy it because they need it. Taxing it is good way for the government to make money off of it to counteract the expenses they have to pay for the damage it causes. But you also forget that our government couldn’t organise a BLT sandwich at a picnic. I wouldn’t be counting on them to legislate against it for a very long time.
What this whole antismoking failure comes down to is the lack of understanding for the power of branding. People smoke because it’s who they want to be. Tobacco has harnessed that, and anti-tobacco simply hasn’t. Moral high ground isn’t helping, good sense isn’t helping, government control isn’t helping. Because all of these would be advantages simply aren’t as potent as the power of that Bastard Branding.
Here’s what would be helping: bringing a gun to a gun fight.
Yes we all know it's bad for your health - but let’s face it nobody cares. Yes it's very expensive - but nobody cares. Yes it smells and is an inconvenience for anyone around you - but nobody cares. But attacking the brand at its core will. Does someone who wants to be perceived as cool also want to be perceived as Low Class? Absolutely not. Attack the brand of smoking as a whole, then you’ll be playing on the same field.
Imagine a PSA commercial of someone buying cigarettes, and let them stop for a second. You'll notice that they're standing in a line outside of Woolworths, where they sell cigarettes, and flowers that nobody buys just so it looks like they’re not just selling cigarettes. And now pan to take a good look at the people in line with them. The morbidly obese woman in the purple track pants; the man with the mullet and the stained white singlet; the 40 year old woman in the pink valour tracksuit and brown leathery skin not looking a day over 60; and that bloody Tapout shirt guy again.
Imagine capturing the exact moment that person realises that this is what their brand has become. That people will perceive you the same as those people you were judging for being low class, and associate those bad traits to people that smoke. I’d bet a small fortune that that’d do more for anti-smoking than colouring the packets green.
When I say Branding is a Bastard, what I mean is that it is one of the single most powerful decision influencers anyone or anything can offer.
And whether it’s for good or otherwise, a person or business that has mastered the art of branding has the power to influence the market, influence an entire industry, or influence the world.
That power isn’t just designed for people that make shoes, expensive watches, cigarettes, or shiny shirts that tell everyone how tough you are. That power is for anyone smart enough to learn it. It’s for anyone passionate enough about their business to realise that finding ways to make what you love align with the people that you want to buy it, and align so well that that they want everyone to know that it represents who they are and who they want to be.
If you’re not an expert at branding, learn from someone that is. Make branding your bitch, then watch it be a bastard for you.
LMNT is the Entrepreneur's own brand. Business as a way of life; success as second nature.