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A Brand in Five Acts

19 April 2011 2 Comments

The power of a great story is the one thing that has endured all time, and it’s the one thing that we can be sure will always endure. Surely, the last breath, of the last person, will be in struggle to utter, “told you I was sick.”

Like people, brands have a story. When brands get in trouble, it’s almost always because it has been challenged, and in that challenge it has lost its personality, its center, the way it has always defined itself. Remember Goldman Sachs’ tagline, “Our Client’s Interests Always Come First”?

Is a visit to McDonald’s an inexpensive indulgence, a place for the whole family to share a moment? Or, is McDonald’s slowly killing that family? In either view, it’s the same food, served the same in every restaurant, but strikingly different perceptions.

According to the German novelist Freytag, a dramatic story has a plot consisting of five parts. Every brand has their own story and just as any good story has a structure, there are five acts to any brand:

The Exposition is the brand’s first impression. Most brands have a personality that can be boiled down to one word. Apple is “creative.” Subaru is “reliable.” Skittles is “fun.” Jaguar is “sophisticated.” Once a personality is established, it is difficult to change, unless we ourselves witness the brand evolve, as it overcomes challenges.

Rising Action, the second act, a brand is challenged. An established brand might take notice of the competition, and try to assert itself, attempting to demonstrate its difference, and superiority, dissuading the consumer from submitting to the allure of our new challenger.

Sometimes, the ultimate challenge doesn’t come from a competitor, but from economic, political, or even moral circumstance.

Climax, a turning point, marks an important change. When Nike was found to use child labor, perceptions were changed forever about that heroic brand. When people learned about the health risks associated with partially hydrogenated fats, that indelibly changed perceptions of fast-foods. When 9/11 occurred, that changed people’s appreciation for Police and Firemen. And, when Chevy created the Volt, that changed perception of the nation’s most entrenched car manufacturer.

In each instance, an ultimate change in perception, was formed by a challenge.

Falling Action is where a brand meets its fate. Will the brand stand up to the ultimate challenge, or will it fold? This is when a good product, with good stewardship, will show resiliency, and when an inferior product, with inferior leadership, will disappear

Finally, Denouement is the end of the end. It’s the ride into the sunset, the happily ever after, or the hero’s eulogy.

You can plot the life of any brand, along this dramatic arc. Every brand is a play in five acts. Some, like The Ford Motor Company, have had many sequels, and some, like Goldman Sachs, tragically die, a victim of its own brand personality crisis.

- Mike Gambino


  • Stephen Curry said:

    A really interesting take on things. Thanks.

  • Mike Gambino said:

    Thanks Stephen. Appreciated…

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