Elements of Brands in Three Greatest-of-All-Time Movies
As opposed to last week’s analysis of stories in three greatest-of-all-time movies, this week’s post covers elements of branding: first identifying three brands within the greatest-of-all-time movies, and then describing three popular brands in the marketplace. Unlike the elements of storytelling, which include a central character’s a point of view as an emotional vantage point for the audience, the character or construct representing a brand must maintain a significant amount of distance. This distance is necessary for a construct larger than the character—the brand—to be discussed. Furthermore, as proposed by Stephen Menick (2011), “only a character that meets the 3D’s—distant, difficult, and dangerous—can behave like a brand.”
Context separates brands from generic products and services, while a strong cluster of ideas provide mental associations that improve brand recall. I recognize that brands are subjective, just as anything involving emotional connections would be. Therefore, under the influence of my own perspective I present the following brands:
American Beauty: Angela (Extramarital Fantasy)
Lester’s journey in ‘American Beauty’ would not be the same without the presence of Angela, the object of his desire and source of rekindling his sedated spirit. Angela as a brand in this movie, represents an extramarital fantasy. Her distance is maintained, as we never get to look inside her head; however, her brand affects the central character and those closest to him.
Angela and this construct of a lustful fantasy are represented in a variety of visual and verbal cues. When she first comes on the scene, she is represented with an image of youthful beauty and sensuality. Contributing to the cluster of ideas are her cheerleading outfit, exposed skin, long blond hair, rose petals, and the bath tub. Additional cues include Lester’s workout routine and sexual fantasies, even self-pleasure. After repeated doses of these cues, the presence of a single rose petal causes audience members to recall Angela and the deep infatuation Lester has with her.
The brand is defined in the beginning as something very attractive and seductive. Angela is alluring and confident. She comes across very ambitious to reach her goal of being a top model, already experienced in all sorts of carnal activity. Towards the end of the movie, Angela’s confidence takes a hit when Ricky says she is just “ordinary.” And just as Lester is about to consummate his fantasy, her virginity is revealed. The brand is transformed into something vulnerable and shameful, pointing Lester to reality instead of fantasy, from rewards to consequences.
Will is the central character in this western story. It follows him from life on the farm—as a widower and father—to a journey that brings him back to life as an outlaw. He and several other characters portray the outlaws of American Westerns. Despite Will’s point of view, the audience is kept distant from the internal thoughts of his past villainous personality. He even seems distant to himself, due to the effects of alcohol and the influence of his late wife, who showed him the error of his ways. Others contributing to this outlaw brand include: Ned, The Schofield Kid, and English Bob.
The construct of the outlaw is defined by images and anecdotes surrounding Will and the other outlaw characters as well as the stories introduced by Kid, W.W. Beauchamp (English Bob’s biographer), and “Little” Bill Daggett (the Sheriff). Contributing to the cluster of ideas are conflicting images of the retired outlaw (Will and Ned), the fake outlaw (Kid), and the cool-headed, vicious murderer (the younger Will). The cluster includes tales of unbelievable killing and overcoming the odds in past outlaw stories, but also the trials and tribulations of the current outlaw—from struggles with past events to weaknesses in the current character. Will has difficulty even getting up on his horse, falling off several times in the act. Ned complains of missing his bed and wife. The Kid boasts of his killing prowess, yet is actually ragged and blind. English Bob is humbled by Little Bill who converts him from the Duke of Death to the Duck.
The outlaw brand is introduced as an endangered species. Authorities have more than an upper hand, they seem to be more feared and corrupt. This is emphasized in English Bob’s exile from Big Whiskey yelling, “a plague on you savages…you have no laws,” then Will’s beating at the hands of Little Bill, and finally Ned’s torture. Even the mercenary killings by these outlaws get overshadowed by their weak context—a slow death from a distant rifle shot in the gut and a defenseless shooting of a cowboy in the outhouse. When Will learns of Ned’s demise, he returns to the cold-blooded killer he was before, with a righteous twist as the victims of his vengeful rage are corrupt in their own ways. The outlaw brand is transformed in the end to the threatening, cool-headed killer it was before, minus the senseless killing of undeserving souls.
All About Eve: Eve (Stardom)
Though the movie is “All About Eve,” the story is told from the perspective of Margo, the reigning star, and Addison, the critic. The story is about the rise and fall of stars in theater, and while Eve may be a brand in herself, she and Margo represent a larger construct of the brand called stardom.
The twilight of Margo’s career provides a brilliant contrast to Eve’s up-and-coming character. The distance from Eve allows viewers to have their own perspective about the hopes and dreams of someone on the outside of the theater, trying to make their way in. Eve’s obsession with Margo provides the image of admiration and allure of stars, while Margo’s struggle with relationships reveals the emptiness of stardom. For both characters the need to be in the spotlight, and stay there, comes before friends, family, and significant meaning in life. Addison and Lloyd contribute to an image of the stardom brand as youthful and attractive by creating opportunities for Eve and Miss Casswell to get their shot in theater.
In the beginning stardom evokes a hope for success and accomplishment. Despite Margo’s age, her popularity provides power and attraction. Stardom is something to be desired, coveted even. As the story progresses the brand loses its luster. First because lack of authenticity and selfishness exude the lifestyle of stars and, ultimately, fame does not produce lasting joy. The stardom brand becomes hollow and superficial—just as Eve’s character realizes the same emptiness Margo experienced at the beginning of the movie, Pheobe begins to seduce Eve with her own arsenal of lies and deceit.
Brands In the Market
Marketers have an opportunity to tell brand stories through their own cluster of ideas. These visual and verbal cues may be the direct result of marketers’ efforts or indirectly the result of consumption, word-of-mouth, media, and other brand touch points. Some brands have a unique creation myth that contributes to its appeal and may be included in marketing efforts. The following are just a few examples of brands and their cluster of ideas:
Corona Extra, a beer that has been produced in Mexico since 1926, is now the top import beer in the United States. In 2010 it became the first Mexican brand to crack the Interbrand list of top 100 global brands.
The cluster of ideas for this brand includes campaigns that speak directly to audiences in the countries that import it, as well as to Mexican nationals and Hispanic Americans. The general American audience is bombarded with images and sounds of the beach—creating a strong connotation of tropical vacations and carefree times without work and worries. Another strong association with Corona Extra is a slice of lime. This pairing has been encouraged and communicated for as long as it has been distributed in the US, since 1981, giving it a festive appearance and stronger connection with Mexican food as a partner. Holidays have been pulled into the Corona connotation with images of beach scenes at night, featuring Christmas lights that drape palm trees.
Grupo Modelo, the owners of the Corona brand, have not alienated their Hispanic consumers. One recent campaign pairs traditional favorites of Mexico and the United States to acknowledge the integration of these two cultures and celebrate the success of Corona as a top US import (Wentz, 2007). Commercials pair tamales with turkeys as well as donuts and bagels with conchas (Mexican pastries, shaped like shells). Another campaign in 2010, called “Refresca Quienes Somos” (Refresh Who We Are), uses humor with soccer and dancing themes that resonate with Hispanic audiences, encouraging them to “celebrate their individuality and reconnect with their Latino cultural identity and values,” says Jim Sabia EVP-Marketing for Crown Imports, distributor of Corona Extra in the US (Wong, 2010).
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started a small ice cream business in 1978 which has become one of the most recognizable brands in ice cream and frozen novelties. Despite being purchased by international conglomerate, Unilever, in 2001, Ben & Jerry’s has maintained it’s small Vermont appeal to millions nationwide and around the world.
Key elements contributing to the cluster of ideas that influence the Ben & Jerry’s brand include a grass roots marketing strategy that is based in cause marketing; high quality, super-premium ice cream with over-the-top flavor combinations; co-branding and associations with famous groups and individuals, as well as intimate consumer contact through a visitor’s center that includes actual product line demonstration. The product packaging itself has become part of the Ben & Jerry’s brand, originally showcasing Ben & Jerry on the lid, the current design has evolved from a new architecture in the late 90s that showcases black and white cows on a green pasture with a blue sky. Recent flavors include ‘Late Night Snack’—with chocolate covered potato chips mixed into the ice cream. Past flavors include ‘Cherry Garcia’ (named after the late Jerry Garcia of the Greatful Dead), which continues to be a top seller.
Ben & Jerry’s maintains its creation myth through various media, including word-of-mouth, the company website, and occasional packaging stories. When Ben and Jerry were finding their way in the 70s, each failed to reach personal goals, but agreed to work together doing something they love. In 1978 they opened their first dip shoppe in an abandoned Vermont gas station using recycled materials and their friends’ help to renovate it. After the first year, they closed their doors temporarily to “see if they were making money” (Ben & Jerry’s, 2011). Fortunately for many fans, they re-opened and the rest is history.
Chick-fil-A is not the largest fast food chain in the United States, but it boasts a financial track record and sustainable growth that few can rival. The first Chick-fil-A opened in 1967 and today there are over 1,500 locations in 39 states.
For years the brand’s cluster of ideas was based on simplicity and quality, offering good food and good service. Over the past two decades the brand has been influenced by the Richards Group, Chick-fil-A’s agency of record, and a much more robust cluster, including: a continued focus on quality, world-class customer service, healthy menu alternatives for adults and children, a “closed on Sundays” policy, no discounts (only free offers), grand openings that feature free meals for a year to the “First 100” customers, and the renegade cows. Many of these ideas are influenced by owner, Truett Cathy’s personal values. The renegade cows, however, give this conservative brand an edgy side—cows vandalizing billboards and pleading for consumers to “EAT MOR CHIKIN” instead of them.
The creation myth for Chick-fil-A is a strong part of the brand equity. Truett Cathy takes credit for inventing the chicken sandwich in 1964 and it has become part of the corporate communications on packaging and advertising. A slogan says, “We didn’t create the chicken, just the chicken sandwich.”
Andrews Distributing. (2011). Corona Extra. Retrieved September 5, 2011, from http://destinationbeer.com/beers/corona-extra).
Eastwood, C. (Director) (1992). Unforgiven. United States. Warner Brothers Entertainment.
Mankiewicz, J. (Director) (1950). All About Eve. United States. Twentieth Century Fox.
Mendes, S. (Director), & Cohen, B., Jinks, D. (Producers). (1942). American Beauty. United States: DreamWorks Pictures.
Menick, S. (2011). Brands and characters. Retrieved September 3, 2011, from the WVU eCampus.
Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, WVU. Lesson 2: Brands. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from the WVU eCampus.
Wong, E. (2010, April 13). Corona Extra Ups Hispanic Marketing. Retrieved September 4, 2011, from http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/corona-extra-ups-hispanic-marketing-107262
Wentz, L. (2007, May 7). On the Road: Corona Extra’s ‘Best of Mexico.’ Retrieved September 4, 2011, from http://adage.com/article/print-edition/road-corona-extra-s-mexico/116478/