One of the biggest debates in the marketing and advertising circuits for a while has been on what makes a brand cultish? Any popular brand, which is not cultish, is generally considered as Iconic brand. Well does this call for debate or clarification? I am only qualified to do the former, let me try and put forth my understanding and learning before I let others to vent theirs.
Whether the brand has a cult / iconic status or not it must definitely stand the test of time. Both these statuses demand a brand to stand for values beyond functionality and must be rooted in popular culture and find a place in people’s lives over a long period of time.
Cult Brands: Apple, Volkswagen, Harley Davidson, Star trek and Benetton.
The word “Cult” originated from Latin word “Cultus” meaning worship or religious practice. And by extension it had started to connote the cultural aspects of religion like rituals, ceremonies, myths and personal sacrifices, miracles etc only later “Cult” started being associated with obsessive to faddish devotion to a religious myth or a religious leader or object of such devotion.
Now lets look at contemporary meaning of “Cult” in the context of brands:
Cult brands are the brands, which dare to be different and celebrate that difference and therefore posses the power of the loyalist who come together on a common ground for the common values and ideologies.
Cult brands are the brands, which are more evolved to just talk about functionality or the benefits of the category they peg themselves much higher in the human value systems, like upholding truth, honesty, simplicity, perfection and goodness. They intelligently tap into innate reserves of human conscious.
“ Star Trek” became a cult by being a crusader of human rights by juxtaposing humans and aliens, war and peace, racism and space born humanitarians all in an adventure story of planets and space.
Volkswagen” achieves with Beetle, all with utter common sense. Harley with it irreverence sense of fantasy and adventure. Apple does with its child like simplicity and perfection producing magical joy to the end user.
Now try to fit any Indian brands? Mahatma Gandhi? Osho? Thums Up? Old Monk? Royal Enfield? Rajinikanth? Mona darling? Its your turn to pick..
Iconic Brands: Coca Cola, Nike, McDonalds, Lego, Rolex, BMW Mini, Marlboro and Vespa.
A purist definition of “Icon” means an image; a representation of a sanctified personage; an important and enduring symbol; an object of great attention and devotion.
As mentioned earlier Iconic Brands posses the ability to transcend from product benefits to become part of people’s lives and of their popular culture. And they also have the ability to tap into collective desires and anxieties of people for instance Rolex taps into the desire to be successful, Coca Cola taps into the emotion of happiness, Marlboro into the need of freedom, Lego into the need of imagination for children.
Therefore the brands endure as long as the human needs exist and over a period of time they become synonymous with the values to become “Objects of desire or devotion.
Lets try to fit some Indian brands: Tatas? Amitabh Bachchan? Sachin Tendulkar?
Godrej ? Raymond’s ? Wills? Bajaj? Hero? Scooty? Nalli’s? MTR?
While there will be less debate on what make a brand Iconic or Cult, I recon their will be heated debate on which Indian brands can make it to the list.
The debate has just began.
Jet Airways and Airtel started their journey almost in the same decade (90’s), few years ago Airtel opted for a complete revamp of logo, while Jet Airways retained the logo and modernized the identity. Both the businesses are very new in India, changing consumers and the changing business objectives forced both the brands to relook at the logos and identities.
Airtel opted for a new logo while retaining the red and white colors. I do not know what the equity studies have thrown up it took me by surprise and so where pundits and the millions of subscribers. Wisdom says to retain the elements, which made you successful and junk the baggage, Airtel dumped the Avant-garde typography and retained the color instead.
Jet Airways on the other hand retained the “flying sun” logo and introduced the yellow ribbon as a contemporary element in the identity. Because losing the equity of the “flying sun” would have proved disastrous in tying to chase a new international image. Protecting the successful domestic market was also a key challenge which they achieved easily by retaining the logo, while successfully managed to curve a new modern, young world-class airline imagery by the introduction of a cheerful, fluid ribbon motive.
So in other words Airtel opted for “Discontinuous” change while Jet opted for “Discontinuously continuous” change.
Proctor & Gamble invented the term “Discontinuously continuous” which means the design must look similar to the earlier one in isolation and dissimilar when observed closely, so that you do not loose out on the equity of familiarity, affinity and instant reorganization built over the years and still tries to modernize the graphics like what Jet did or “Apple” keep doing it every now and then.
Discontinuously continuous is a very pragmatic approach for all successful heritage brands to keep in touch with the ever-changing world; here are some classic examples of brands adopting this approach: