Brand Tags and the Kingdom of (Internet) Evil

One of the first things that they teach you when you start working in advertising is that "you need to have a clear positioning". You need to be different; you need to stand for something.

So when people think about your brand, they need to have very clear connotations in their mind. Even better, they should be able to visualize and "mentally experience" your brand using their senses.

Let's see how this works for Starbucks. What comes to mind? Words like coffee or lounge maybe? Music and sounds of espresso machines? Smell of freshly brewed coffee? (and recently bacon and eggs unfortunately). I bet it's very clear in our minds, because Starbucks is a very successful brand.

Now, the ultimate goal for a brand is to also "own" certain values, words, or emotions in our hearts and brains. So this relationship should work backwards as well: when you think about coffee, you should immediately think of Starbucks. When you think about computers, you should think of Apple and so on.

Of course not all associations are positive. Think of the computer industry for a minute. It's not a secret that Apple has a very fresh image while Microsoft creates very polarizing emotions. It's not a surprise that Google is also facing some challenges as it is becoming a larger corporation and people start realizing its size and world domination plans. But it's very interesting nevertheless to see the internet population expressing their views in real time.

Many of us have seen Lovemarks a few years back, a website where consumers can go and share their thoughts about certain brands. Brand tags is a much more recent (and more interesting) experiment in this area. The idea is very simple and to the point: the website presents you with various brands (one at a time) and you have to write down the first word or phrase that pops into your head. That's it.

Then you can go and see the tag cloud of any brand just like you would see it for your delicious bookmarks.

Let me show you an example: I took the top 15 associations for the 3 most important players of the new technology arena (tags from Brand Tags)


Not surprisingly, Apple has an amazingly positive brand image. Most of its equity comes from its two flagship products (mac and ipod) and as a brand it defines design, innovation, creativity and "awesome-ness" in consumers minds.

How about Microsoft?

The first thing that comes to mind is EVIL. There are other interesting things there (like crap, shit, shucks, boring) but most of it is negative and totally associated with the generic notion of "computer" and windows. I guess this doesn't come as a surprise, but it's still pretty bad and difficult to change.

Then we have Google. On the one hand there is a clear admiration of the brand's technology (awesome) and clear indications that the brand "defines" the internet in general and web search in particular. On the other hand, as Google approaches "GOD", the brand also becomes evil in consumers minds, illustrating the fear associated with the dominant position of the brand.

(As a side note, the data from Lovemarks (balance of positive vs negative comments) also provided on the chart, support the qualitative results from Brand tags )

So this is all very interesting. Only a few years ago, a marketer would need thousands of dollars to collect this information. Now she can get it for free. So can everybody else, which makes things very interesting.

I recommend that you visit Brandtags and spend some time playing with different brands. It's not only illuminating but it's also fun.