Is your brand bi-polar?


How many times have you been frustrated when a brand promises one thing in its messaging and then delivers a very different audience experience? My colleague, Deb Brown, recently opined on this very subject when she compared what the new CBS This Morning promised in its marketing and what she actually experienced as a viewer.

Deb’s blog inspired me to wax poetic on other brands that seem positively bi-polar when it comes to promising one experience and delivering a very different one.

Take The History Channel. Please.

I adored the original History Channel, but have absolutely no clue who they’ve become or what their brand stands for. And, judging by some cursory research on my part, neither do they. For example, The History Channel’s website is replete with historical tidbits and trivia, including This Day in History, a 150-year anniversary video about the Civil War and all sorts of other cool value adds for junkies such as me. But, The History Channel’s programing is laughably bizarre, and includes such low-end nonsense as Swamp People, Ax Men and Ancient Aliens. Do the folks in programming not speak to their peers in marketing? Or, do the latter simply not watch the network? Either way, it positively schizophrenic.

But, CBS and The History Channel aren’t alone. In fact, they have lots of company in the bi-polar branding world. Just consider these examples:
-    Starbucks lauds its commitment to being ethical and responsible in everything the corporation does. Yet, they just raised prices in Manhattan without any advance notice, causing a rash of negative reviews.
-    Continental Airlines heralded its United merger with the following headline: ‘It’s not who’s merging, but what’s about to emerge.’ As a longstanding Continental flier, I can assure you that what’s emerged is one hot mess of inefficiency.
-    McDonald’s new tagline is ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ But, based upon the fast food chain’s reprehensible role in fattening up Americans to die, the motto should be, ‘Killing you slowly, bite-by-bite.’
-    Carnival Cruise Lines trumpets their fun excursions and asks for passenger reviews on the website (but bars entry without a user ID and password). Nowhere is there any mention of the ghastly Costa Concordia capsizing that claimed so many lives. I’ve met a few CEOs who lived in a world of denial, but Carnival’s top dog deserves a special place in hell for not owning up to the disaster.
-    And, in the wonderful world of public relations, there’s my alma mater, H+K Strategies. About a month ago, the PR trades blasted breaking news bulletins announcing the legendary Hill & Knowlton’s name change to H+K Strategies (a non-news story if there ever was one). Then, just last week, H+K Strategies was sued by Weber for client and people theft, which is a very big deal indeed. But, when one travels to the H+K Strategies web site, there’s no mention whatsoever of the suit or H&K’s POV. Instead, the visitor is prompted to view a video of CEO Jack Martin, who pontificates about H+K Strategies being in the “wisdom business.” Well, some old wise man was clearly asleep at the wheel when he allowed the firm to re-brand only weeks before a major law suit was filed by a top competitor. There’s bi-polar and then there’s dysfunctional. I’d suggest H+K Strategies belongs in both buckets.

Enough with me and my views. What are your experiences with bi-polar brands? Send me some decent examples of corporations that promise one thing in their marketing and deliver something decidedly different in their audience experience, and I’ll mail you a way cool Peppercom water bottle as a way of saying thanks. (Note: winners of said bottle may find it to be anything but cool. Peppercom in no way, shape or form wants to fall prey to becoming a bi-polar brand.)

2 thoughts on “Is your brand bi-polar?

  1. Great stuff, Julie. Spot on, as always. Audience wants and needs be damned. It’s full speed ahead on the schizophrenic ship otherwise known as S.S. History.

  2. Bi-polar branding is much like bi-polar hiring. A company says it wants to hire “out-of-the-box” thinkers with innovative, fresh new ideas, but then shackles those individuals when they try to implement real change.
    The History Channel (which is simply called HISTORY now), has the same mandate as every other TV network — to get more eyeballs so higher advertising rates can be charged. The leadership there has been celebrated in the trades for doing just that (no matter that viewers like you are disappointed that their programming has little or nothing to do with historical events or people anymore).