What are Brands?
Back in 2014, a Supreme Court ruling was held during the controversial trial of Burwell vs Hobby Lobby. The issue in question was if a privately held company could opt out of government mandates and regulations based on the grounds of a corporate claim of religious belief. The court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby which stirred a national debate among business owners and workers alike. Can a corporation have the same individual rights as a person? And if so, what would it mean for the people working under that corporation. Granted that ruling only works for more privately held companies but it still caused quite a stir among the public. Mainly about how a corporation , an abstract non-living entity made up of multiple people, could even have a religious identity.
Corporate person hood, while a hot topic in today’s highly capitalistic society, is not a new debate. Hell, corporations have had varying degrees of person hood in the United States since at least 1818 after the question was raised whether corporations could enforce and participate in contracts. But this does leave me wondering, do companies have identities? Are they shaped by brands as we know it? Does our perception of a company help or hurt them in the long run?
Brands Serve as Company Alter Egos
A brand, as the layman would describe it, would be a logo and a tagline attached to a product by a major company. But is that all what branding really is? After all, just about anybody can combine an image with a product then buy some advertising space in hopes that someone sees it.
But a catchy slogan alone cant grab public attention. Take it from someone who works at a Huntsville marketing firm. A flashy logo without any context or assigned value to it is as useless as the preview family photo in a picture frame you just bought. It’s just there to take up space and is utterly pointless.
So, what is a brand if it isn’t just a tagline and an image? It is an identity that serves as a way for the public to identify what makes the company unique.
Example: The Disney Company’s Child-Friendly Identity
The Child-Friendly Brand that Built an Empire
Even in the early stages of his empire, Walt Disney knew who he wanted to be, and by extension how his company would reflect it. His goal for his company was to instill a sense of wonder and imagination for children and adults alike. He accomplished this with three major business strategies. First, he gave his company a family friendly persona to reach his target demographic. Then, he kept either inventing or utilizing new forms of technology for film and the theme parks. Finally, he positioned himself and his company in places where the entertainment industry was growing.
When his animated films and theme parks became a big success, everyone who had seen anything remotely to do with Disney could immediately get the impression of what he was about. Child-like wonder. And it worked tremendously. Disney is a global empire with multiple theme parks worldwide and has a place in both the film industry with Pixar and a lot of success with merchandising.
So, Disney’s personal brand made him a success because he gave his company an alter ego for the public to easily identify with. But how well does it hold up after many years of being on the entertainment scene for families?
But Also Doomed It
While the Disney company has certainly grown and continues to grow with their acquisitions of both Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars franchise. However, you are not going to see an R-rated Marvel superhero movie unless it is from Fox. Nor, are you going to see a PG-13 Pixar film talking about seriously controversial topics. And you are never going to see a Disney animated version of Joan of Arc with her burning at the stake.
You will never see those things because it clashes with the public perception of the Disney brand. If they toe too far out of line with the public perception of them, they will get a huge backlash from their audience. Human beings are social creatures that find comfort and safety in predictability. Its why most of us are part of a culture, and it is why every single person has at least one daily ritual or habits. Any deviation from that norm will upset people and make them angry enough to push the offender out of their life. And a company that deviates too far from a strongly held identity could fall apart at the seams.
It could be argued that this is a good thing for children. This may be true to some extent. But this also caused some tonal issues with Disney films like Hercules, Pocahontas, and, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You could tell during production that there was a clash with the project directors and the constraints of the brand. These clashes combined with the taking off of Pixar has mostly lead to the end of the Disney Renaissance and its 2d animation studio. This has brought Disney criticism as being either “too commercialized” with either dark or ethnic source material or “too pandering” towards younger audiences.
Then you have other criticisms landed by both conservative and liberal families that both want their values and reputations due justice but fall in direct conflict with one another. Because Disney wants to cater to as many families as possible, they try to please everyone, pleasing no one in the process.
The perception of the family brand Walt and Roy has painstakingly cultivated over the years has made Disney huge. But, it has also doomed the company from personal growth by trying to appeal to everyone. The company is lucrative, but it is also creatively stagnant They are currently trying to mitigate that stagnation by owning other properties and integrating them into their somewhat outdated parks, but there isn’t as much of that original creative spark that the company used to have. And I wonder, just how long their strategy is going to last?
The sort of Aesop that can come from the Disney company’s story is that its great to have an identity for your company. But, you can’t let that identity consume your company to the point where it excludes creative possibility.