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The Branding of Strangers | Marktd
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December 1, 2008

The Branding of Strangers

by Scott Lachut

Rob Walker over at the NY Times calls attention to an interesting study conducted at the University of Maryland recently, tracking what is being called “incidental brand-consumer encounters.”  Essentially, the research was meant to determine what kind of effect, if any, brands have on us in the context of strangers.  With all of the advertising bombarding as we walk down the street, the ones with the most impact might not be traditional advertising at all, but rather subtle cues picked up from the people around us holding cans of Coca-Cola or wearing a T-shirts emblazoned with an easily identifiable logo.

In one study, each subject was shown 20 photographs of people in various situations and instructed to focus on facial expressions. Afterward, each subject was offered a bottle of water from a selection of four brands. The experiment had nothing to do with facial expressions and everything to do with which kind of water they chose: the subjects had been divided into groups, based on how many of the photos they viewed incidentally included a bottle of Dasani water. Among those who looked at Dasani-free pictures, about 17 percent chose that brand. But about 40 percent of those who viewed a group of pictures that included 12 with a Dasani presence made the brand their pick. Since subjects who actually noticed the brand in the pictures were eliminated from the results, that spike in popularity evidently came from exposure that the subjects weren’t even aware of. “In essence,” Ferraro says, “we have these brief social encounters fairly regularly, and they may have an impact on our choices.”

Walker uses the Ralph Lauren logo as a telling example of a company’s ability to create a lasting, recognizable logo that has been so seamlessly incorporated into their product line that rather than reaching a level of cluttered ubiquity, has almost been rendered invisible - but not really.  And that might be the very reason that it’s so successful.  Recognizing this fact perhaps, Ralph Lauren has smartly allowed the iconic image to play its influential role in public, while leaving it absent from their advertising campaigns.  An interesting lesson in out-of-box marketing and brand positioning, especially given out turbulent economic times, proving that less is sometimes more.

[via Rob Walker at NY Times]

Article categories: Ad Biz, Brand Experience, Branding, Creative Thinking, Influencer Targeting, Market Research

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