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August 2009

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UST MBC Director’s Memo – 8.09

This week I hit the web looking for ideas for awards for a creative communication competition the UST MBC will be sponsoring this fall (more on that to follow next month!). In looking at the trophies, plaques, pendants and ribbons, I thought about all the “awards” that have come home from school with my boys in the last dozen years. There are so many of them for pedestrian accomplishments that one of two things seems to happen – recognition for genuine achievements begin to lose meaning, or the size of the prize increases in physical dimension (one son’s national NFL trophy weighs about 25 pounds).
Clearly, we can dilute the meaning of something by spreading that meaning too far from its source. When considering a “brand” or the general perception of a particular client aspect or issue, that means it’s possible to go astray. Should TGI Fridays really be selling frozen entrees at the supermarket? Should rap artists extend their brand beyond clothing to vodka and fragrances? Someone thinks these things should happen, because the products exist. The real question comes in finding the line between the core of a brand and “jumping the shark.”( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark ) Arguably, the city of Las Vegas crossed that line a few years ago in attempting to embrace the entire family, only to retreat back to it’s adult playground image. (They even help you fake your identity – http://www.visitlasvegas.com/vegas/features/be-anyone/ )
The good news: returning to core positioning after a short… lapse of judgment… can work if the original meaning had real strength. The flip side however appears when the value proposition of the original brand has been antiquated and someone attempts to leverage the equity of the old name in “new” ways. We saw some of this with Polaroid in the face of digital cameras. Last year the firm introduced a digital camera that could print low-res instant prints. This product ties back to the historical strength of the brand, but does anyone really want paper output from a digital camera anymore? We’ll have to see if it takes off, but in many ways the meaning and excitement of instant pictures that cemented the Polaroid brand have changed with technology and pursuant expectations of the culture.
So in Polaroid’s case at least, the firm may have to face the reality that the brand has lost most of its meaning, because making bigger cameras isn’t going to help.