Recently, a new biography of Coco Chanel was published claiming that Ms. Chanel was a Nazi Spy. According to published reports, Fashion’s Grand Dame was sharing pillow time and super secret talk with a professional German spy by the name of Hans Gunther von Dincklage (yes, I laughed a little at the name too!). The added accusation is that Coco was a “rampant” anti-Semite who took advantage of the war (WWII) in order to acquire the business, owned by two Jewish brothers, that launched Chanel’s signature Nº5 fragrance. Chanel (the company) has dismissed the allegations. It is not up to me to decide whether or not what is being said about Coco Chanel is true. However, it does bring up a very interesting question. What if it were?
There are two aspects of this “revelation” that are important to me. The professional aspect of a long standing brand that I admire and respect and the personal conflict that I feel as a independent, educated French woman.
From the professional side, Coco Chanel’s legacy is more important, complex and powerful than just the woman herself. In fact, her name is associated with more than what she was solely responsible for creating. Her fashion house has carried on well beyond her passing and her brand is arguably the most recognized luxury brand in the world. She was rebellious, tenacious, smart and single-minded. Those traits gave her the ability to build an incredible business. She rose from nothing to be the most famous woman of her era. She played with gender roles of clothing, the traditions of women’s attire and the idea of class. She was a genius.
Chanel’s impact on branding and marketing is difficult to measure. As a designer, she broke boundaries. The creation of her signature perfume, Chanel nº5, was the first “designer” perfume. Chanel’s empire has expanded beyond the one perfume and the quilted leather purse to be more than what Ms. Chanel was. So back to the main question, what is the true damage of finding out that the tenacious designer might have also been working against the Allies in WWII? In truth, the answer depends entire upon two things: if you, as a consumer, have a strong negative response to this type of behavior and if you see Coco Chanel as being integral to your purchasing of Chanel products today.
This is where the personal conflict is for me. I was raised by a French mother and lived in France during my childhood. I identify myself as French as well as American. Coco Chanel was a great example of a rebellious, independent French woman. For me, she embodied the spirit and complexity of my mother’s homeland. She was gritty, strong, harsh, deeply creative, driven, classy and unapologetic. I categorize her among those women who proved that this world is what you make of it.
Growing up in a French home, I was never much bothered by the sexual politics that scandalize here in the US. I always felt that a public person’s personal life was their own. To idolize someone only to rip them down because of private life flaws seemed extreme to me. Basically, I don’t really care who Coco Chanel was having sex with. That said, criminal behavior in one’s personal life is absolutely a public issue, particularly for people with great influence. These accusations, if proved correct, are criminal. But there is more, they hit at the core of a conflict that lives within French people about the war that split our country in half.
Let me explain. France, at the time of WWII, was not the same place it is today. It was a country that was split into two and had its own shadowy past with the treatment of minorities. The “Velodrome d’Hiver” round up exemplifies that very fact. Even today’s France still struggles with race and religion in a big way. There is a chance that, for her own survival and that of the business, Coco Chanel dabbled in the gray area where many lived between private disagreement and public collaboration. Collaboration would have allowed Chanel to keep her lifestyle and her business intact throughout Occupation.
However, the added accusation of taking advantage of Occupation for businesses purposes is particularly difficult attribute to the perils of the era. If proven true, Coco Chanel wasn’t simply surviving, she was thriving. Suddenly the idol Chanel would be no better than those France has pushed into collective infamy for their criminal and inhumane actions. And all those traits that made Chanel so admirable take a different spin. She becomes a cold, calculating bigoted social climber who uses her influence to condemn those around her. Hardly a woman worth admiring.
So for me the conflict remains. Can I appreciate the enormity of what the House of Chanel has given my profession and the world of fashion while acknowledging her to be far less than what she is branded to be? Truth is, I still don’t know.
What do you think?
It has been a well established cultural observation that an artist is only truly appreciated posthumously. Once gone from the mortal plane, an artist cannot alter his or her trajectory, cannot interrupt the near microscopic analysis of their genius, character and particularly, their flaws.
Amy Winehouse died at the young of 27 in her London home this weekend. She was a very talented woman with penchant for drama and addiction. She is now a member of what is being called the “Forever 27 Club”, a collection of musical artists who died at the same age and whose celebrity has only increased over the years. Books and movies have been dedicated to the members of this club. Analysis of their cultural significance, their untapped genius and peddling of their “unfinished masterpieces” have become a cottage industry.
So what does that have to do with marketing? Well, everything actually. Marketing isn’t purely a business function. Over the course of the last year, I have blogged many times about our own personal brands, be it as artists like Amy Winehouse, businessmen like Rupert Murdoch or as ordinary citizens of the world. We represent ourselves to the world with both our reputation and our personal brand.
Rupert Murdoch is a great example of reputation and brand not reflecting each other until very recently. Murdoch is the powerful CEO of News Corp, which owns newspapers like the now defunct News of the World and television stations like Fox News. The conservatively inclined Murdoch has always been branded as being strong willed and politically mind but his personal reputation was far less flattering, particularly with those politicians and celebrities that Murdoch supposedly pressured and influenced. Here in the US, influence peddling is not a crime in the same way it is in the EU. Lobbying, a function of our governmental system that is solely designed to influence through various “morally ambiguous” means, is illegal in countries like France. Coming back to Murdoch, he was recently questioned before British Parliament when it was brought to light that the now defunct News of the World had actually hacked the phones and voice mails of over 4,000 people, including but no limited to, politicians, celebrities, private citizens, fallen British soldiers, 9/11 victims and the cell phone of a young murder victim. This last case was a particularly egregious breach as messages deleted giving false hope to the victims family when she had already been killed.
Now, in addition to being questioned by Parliament, Murdoch is faced with a branding crisis. News Corp is in the cross hairs of regulators that are making it increasingly difficult for Murdoch grow his empire. Regardless of his involvement in the scandal, he set a climate of permissibility around activities that were clearly immoral and not journalistic. Should Murdoch’s personal brand as a media tycoon and conservative supporter be sullied by the actions of a few at his company? The perils of being the figure head of his company virtually demand it. The failures in his chain of command, which is what we are meant to believe, are still his responsibility, something he has steadfastly refused to acknowledge. As manager of his own brand and that of his company, he is responsible.
And what about Amy Winehouse? Will her brand improve because she can no longer be found stumbling out of clubs or rehab centers? It saddens me to say that yes, I believe it will. Like Janis Joplin before her, her music, her voice and her songwriting will be the only inputs left to speak for her. The tragedies of her personal life and the demons of her addiction will be white washed away to leave room for banal speculation. She won’t be there to influence her brand anymore. At the time of her death, Amy Winehouse had just cancelled a European comeback tour because a drunk and drugged out performance in Belgrade. A poor epitaph for one so talented, though a fitting one for one so tormented.
As for Murdoch, he still has time to alter the course of his brand and likely will (because he’s smart enough to know its important). Personally, I would like to see him take responsibility for the arrogance and viciousness of these acts and to take actual measures to correct them. Both improving his personal reputation and his brand.
The perils of branding is that you don’t have control over it all the time. As marketers, we need to lose this idea that we can somehow make people feel something that is not authentic, feeding them falsehood in any fashion is only to create a situation that not be remedied. As people, our personal brand’s are much the same. We must be sure to construct a brand that reflects the best of ourselves but leaves room for our humanity as well.
- Caroline Reilly
Yup you heard it right! There is a visualization tool that turns brands into toy models and allows us to see what they would “look like”. According to brandtoys.com : Brand Toys are playful visualizations of a brand based on data from Millard Brown (Brand Z).
The whole thing is in flash and very interactive,
Here is the website: http://www.brandtoys.com/#. You’ve got to check it out and play with it!
Perusing the internet for interesting brand bits, I stumbled upon Brand New, a site that could very well be considered a sister blog to YBiS showing, albeit a much prettier sister that is head cheerleader, gets straight A’s and receives a lot of male attention (hate her soooooo much…). Jealous reactions aside, I found a lot to like about the site and heartily recommend it to the five of you who read our blog. Special mention goes to the blogs list of Best and Worst Brand Identities of 2010 (Part 2 found here). Enjoy the lists and have a great weekend!
- Philip Beickler
The Times had a great two part blog post last week (click here for part 1) detailing a small business’ self made website—which attracted plenty of traffic, but no sales— and asked for feedback from the Times readership on what the owner could do to improve the site.
The second part (here) goes over some of the feedback received—-much of it simple: have the same URL name as your business, write copy that talks about your strengths, put more money into it, etc… and some of it was more nuanced: “What’s missing here is passion—tell us why you do this for a living and what makes you tick”
All in all a great experiment by the times, to put a site under a microscope and truly open source the feedback.
Personally, the timing of this article could not have been more apt—see, as a self professed marketing guru (read: its’ a stretch), I am occasionally approached by friends, (see: lack of resourcefulness on their part) for simple marketing tips. So last week, a buddy of mine in the beginning stages of building a green friendly cleaning company showed me his new website.
What he had was a static page with a long paragraph about the new outfit, and a contact form. This wasn’t going to do, so I wrote out the following list of questions and tips that he and his biz partner needed to answer before they decided to put up an enhanced version of their new site.
So in our best mimicry of the times post we’re asking you to help us do the same for the Greenstone Clean site as they did for the small business in Houston. For now we’ll go over my questions/tasks for my buddy, and In follow up posts, we’ll show his new logo and the updates as they get put in for our own little experiment. But In the meantime, these were my questions for him.
The Basics: Your company and Your Market
Branding Exercise: Who is your customer?
The Site: Architecture and feel
Now, what I need from you is feedback:
Be sure to leave your comments in the disqus box below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
-By Ben Malki
As I cruised over to the Trader Joe’s in the River North Neighborhood of Chicago, I started to think about why it was that people shop where they do? Does the grocery store you choose say something about you? I venture to say that it does.
Grocery stores simply aren’t the same as they used to be. You no longer have a few, very similarly priced and laid out choices. In the United States, the grocery experience has been transformed into a sort of clash of the classes. Shoppers still seek out the best prices, but the grocery store they frequent on a regular basis says something about them.
If you shop at Whole Foods (nicknamed Whole Paycheck for good cause), you are looking to signal your willingness to pay top dollar for the best that the “wholesome” food world can provide. You might also be someone who recycles, enjoys yoga, drinks loads of tea and (secretly) enjoys buying deliciously fatty foods under the guise that its not processed.
If you shop at Trader Joe’s (or the local co-op grocer), you are looking to get the organic/wholesome experience while maintaining a limited budget. You probably still like deliciously fatty foods and recycle but you’re willing to compromise a huge selection for a better price. You also don’t really get to take advantage of the prepared food that makes Whole Foods so amazing.
If you are one of the shoppers of the Safeway/Jewel Osco’s of the world (“regular grocery stores”), you probably think (as you should) that everyone else is being pretty impractical about their shopping. You probably buy for a household, you don’t want to go to a million stores and you’re enjoying the recent inclusion of an organic aisle to your store. You might recycle but mostly, you value practicality over all else.
Now, there are more than just these options but for regular, twice to three times a week shopping, I’m willing to bet that you use one of the three above stated store types.
Of course these are my assumptions and judgments, but as I turned the corner with my Trader Joe’s branded insulated bag, I thought about how I had branded myself without really thinking about it. I don’t have a Whole Foods or Safeway insulated bag (though they are sold at both stores). I am a Trader Joe’s person, and silly as it may sound, it somehow feels important to state that fact to the world even when I’m not going to get my groceries. I’ve participated in the creation of a brand preference, and I’ve (likely) sought to fit the image of a person who would shop at Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Paycheck … Foods.
So I bring this question to you our readers, all over the USA and the World, what does your grocery store say about you?
As the sole female on this blog, I am occasionally the one who has to point out that men and women are different. These occasions aren’t prompted by any lingering doubts on the part of my illustrious colleagues (who are aware of this fact already for various reasons) but rather by the way that companies speak to the two sexes differently. This “duality” in communication is best exemplified by the campaign for Old Spice Body Wash.
I won’t lie, I LOVE this campaign. Its genius. It makes me want to go buy Old Spice Body Wash for men I don’t even know. And I know I’m not the only woman who feels that way. At least, we feel that way about the one of the commercials. And this is where the duality comes in. One commercial features a handsome man who is speaking directly to us ladies about the smelly men in our lives, while the other features an intensely muscular, hyper-actively aggressive man who is speaking to the gentlemen about their less than gentlemanly stink.
Here is the commercial targeted at the ladies (also known as the primary purchaser of goods in most households):
And now the “man” version which tells the gentlemen to block their odors:
Now, I can appeal to the many conversations that have transpired on this subject as a source on what I’m about to declare. The woman’s version makes the men want to hide in the couch (or cover their girlfriend’s eyes so the drooling will stop) and the men’s version makes literally no sense to women. But it WORKS! Other mens products have taken different approaches, like Axe and their barely clothed, aggressive female mobs, or Dove for Men, which as gone the classic Gillette patented route, but none of them found the insight that prompted the Old Spice “dual campaign”. The insight that women buy what goes in the shower and that men don’t want to be embarrassed by that purchase (ie smelling like flowers or vanilla shea butter). So to the fine people and Wieden + Kennedy, I salute you! Thank you for the Old Spice guy!
I am loathe to become as repetitive as I am derivative, but I will start my post today in a similar fashion to the one I posted last week: by linking to an article written by someone better qualified, with greater business knowledge, experience and insight than I could scrape together. They are probably better looking and more sophisticated but let us not dwell overlong on my failings.
In The Marmite Effect, The Economist gives us a brief overview of new insight into some peculiar consumer behavior. The behavior in question is the tendency of expats and immigrants to pay a premium for food brands and ingredients from their region of origin while there are alternatives of equal quality available for a fraction of the price. While this phenomenon is well known, up to date no research has been able to fully explain why this is.
Apparently, the habits and tastes formed during our early childhood have a profound effect on our consumption habits later in life. While this is certainly not new information, what is startling is how long human beings will adhere to these tastes once they have moved away from their region of origin. According to the study (which can be found here, logging in at a remarkably svelte 50 pages), consumer will cling to these preferences for as long as 20 years, sometimes even as long as 50 years, after having immigrated!
Other than putting truth to the old adage “Old habits die hard” how does this affect brands that operate on an international scale? For one: unless a company is in the enviable position of creating a whole new market when it enters another country, it is likely to face considerable difficulties trying to capture market share from local competitors. The findings seem to imply that there is a anthropological “non-tariff barrier” that frustrates entry into foreign markets. One way of overcoming this barrier could be to play the long game. Brands could enter the market focusing on imprinting on consumers as early as possible, and waiting for market share to grow over the course of several decades. While this would create a stable consumer base 20 years down the road, it is doubtful most companies (let alone Wall Street) would be willing to wait for so long.
Another question that arises is: does the same phenomenon hold true for other types of products? Truthfully, the best I would be able to offer at this junction is idle and somewhat flippant, speculation, as I have no data on the matter, nor was I able to come up with any after a few quick web searches. I could imagine, however, that consumers are far more likely to buy the same laundry detergent that their parents used, or smoke the same cigarette brand. Thus, brand managers would be wise to either convince parents, which would take significant effort and capital, or to stick to that other old cliche “Get em young”.
In this climate of economic uncertainty, where jobs are rare and good jobs rarer still, being able to properly sell yourself and your skills is paramount. But how do you build that brand and is it really different than reputation?
Recently many articles have been written about controlling your brand and understanding its impact. Many of these articles have suggested that brand and reputation are the same. Businessweek’s article “Creating Brand You” treads that line with difficulty suggesting that they are essentially the same. This is not accurate to the nature of what a brand is or does. Yes a good reputation in the work place is critical to doing well but having a good personal brand is more than a positive 360 scorecard.
In 1997, Tom Peters wrote a piece called “The Brand Called You” and it was recently republished by Fast Company. This 6 page article is much more careful about the distinction between reputation and brand but still manages to confuse the two to the reader. To Peters’ credit, he explains why its important to have both a good brand and a good reputation. He illustrates situations in which both are desirable and even necessary in the course of doing business. Having your emails answered first, being invited to meetings, and being asked for your opinion are important components of advancement and eventual recommendation from your peers. But those reactions are not created through a good brand, but rather good reputation.
Your personal brand is something more evolved and constructed than a reputation. Corporate brands stay in place while the reputation of that corporation may alter over the course of time. BP is having a difficult time in terms of reputation but their brand is not suffering to the extent it could because of the capital investment applied to the brand prior to the accident in the Gulf. So what does that mean for you?
Essentially, brand yourself. One of our contributors has done this through his website www.hirebenmalki.com, a website that both shows off his resume, who he is, his reputation (through recommendations), his previous work and his abilities. This website is a great beginning step to creating a personal brand. Even if you are not currently looking for a job (lucky!), having a mechanism that represents you externally that does not depend upon personal reputation is important. In this situation, you could almost consider branding to be a boosting to your reputation and a way of fighting off negativity. Because a well built brand is harder to break than a reputation, the brand that is you will be able to survive life’s tougher challenges.
Other ways, brand can build on your successes. Your personal brand can grow and be a greater base of leverage than reputation alone. Think of all the articles about CEO’s who are fired from one company only to be hired for an obscene amount somewhere else. They have a great personal brand, and you my friend, do not. So how do you build this brand?
The process is long but relatively simple. You need to create mechanisms like a website to promote yourself and build on those things you already have including previous work, images that reflect your personality and way to connect to others. Don’t expect to be brand overnight, but rather look at representing yourself consistently. As your reputation and experience grows, your brand will grow too. Look at creating a brand that is not just related to what you do but who you are. This will avoid some unpleasant push-back if you decide to make radical changes to your life. Over time, you will have built a brand that is resilient and creates more value to you than the sum of its parts.