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My first brand awareness (age 32 months)

May 27, 2010

As a professional Designer I’ve worked in advertising, marketing and brand development for nearly my entire career, so it’s fair to say in my personal life I’m considered ‘brand-savvy’. However, as a father I’m fairly brand-adverse. The BBC’s dedicated pre-school children’s channel Cbeebies is a godsend in this respect. It’s not perfect, but it does offer children some protection from premature indoctrination into the world of consumerism– well, at least until they arrive at the toyshop at least.

Is it possible to abide by two contrasting, disparate principles and keep them separate? I hope so – for a time anyway. Many years ago as a young design student, the first book on my reading list was The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. It impacted on me. For this reason and many years later I delayed reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo being acutely aware that an even higher degree of uneasy cynicism might take root. Without getting too political, as a left-wing comedian now mainstream writer used to say, I’d like to think I hold a balanced view of advertising and its position and effect in and on society. It’s a fundamental aspect of capitalism; it drives consumerism and creates commerce, wealth and industry. It many ways its reach extends well beyond its remit however, often influencing public opinion, shaping attitudes and changing society in ways we don’t yet fully appreciate or understand.

As an enlightened society however, we recognise the collective power and influence of advertising, marketing and branding, even if those to whom it’s most often directed towards, don’t. Advertising in the UK is regulated and (to an extent) governed by authorities charged with, among other things ensuring balance of truth, expectation, representation, decency, honesty and sensibility. Though such regulation exists, its purpose and efficacy is severely challenged by modern brand development and marketing techniques, and the allure of desire.

Many people don’t understand the difference between brand development and advertising – even some within the industry and whom I’ve come into contact with. Good brand development may call upon advertising. It may not. Advertising isn’t always concerned with brand promotion. These two disciplines occupy near identical space but are very different species. Brand development and management may utilise advertising in all sorts of ways, from high visibility cross-media campaigns to word-of-mouth viral ‘guerilla’ marketing, but branding also encompasses other constituent, often elusive qualities. We notice this particularly with brands that we as consumers might be familiar with and yet we neither consume nor recall their advertising. How many of us drive Aston Martin cars? Do we all use Apple Mac computers? Yet these are powerful brands – instantly recognisable, compelling and covetable. Brand awareness is not necessarily commensurate with advertising. Powerful brands often require delicate, subtle advertising.

So successful brand development extents beyond mere advertising and touches something deep in our subconscious, whether we like it or not. These powerful brands can also elicit strong, negative, emotive feelings, much to the brand owner’s chagrin.

None of this can stop well-crafted brand pervasion however. Little girls, even those with design consultants for fathers, like all things pink. They also like kittens, and greeting people. So the Hello Kitty brand has struck home – a direct hit – the first brand to pierce the insouciant innocence of childhood.

In the couple of days this article sat on my laptop gestating, I tested my daughter’s awareness of the brand, as a family friend had bough a toy from near identical and in-house brand Miko Cat. Causally I referred to the Boots-own Miko Cat as Hello Kitty…”No Daddy” she said, slightly miffed, “Hello Kitty’s face is white, Miko Cat’s isn’t.”

That brand aversion period didn’t last long.

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