Thursday, February 2, 2012

Brand-Jacked!

Do you remember Larry, a.k.a. “The Target”? His photograph was taken with his mobster sidekicks, Johnny, “The Face”, and Freddy, “The Fish." The photos were part of a branding campaign I worked on (yes, it was a while ago, so don’t rub it in) for the DayGlo Color Corporation. The issue was that their brand was being hijacked.

Brand jacking is what happens when other folks start using your brand’s name for their stuff. For example, Kleenex is both a tissue and a brand. In Europe, when you vacuum your carpet, you’re “Hoover-ing." In DayGlo’s case, of course, florescent paint was being called “dayglo."

Linguistic experts thrill at this because it is proof that our language is dynamic as new words and language patterns are forever evolving. But for corporations and causes, with the growing number of social channels, this word metamorphosis is a mixed blessing. Brand jacking can be problematic but also contribute significantly to awareness.

We've all read about the negative side, like when a politician or celebrity has had a fake social media account created for them by a malicious fan or their personal accounts hacked. There are web addresses, too, changed ever so slightly from the company’s own address, containing content your mom wouldn’t approve of.

I also read recently how protesters are using Amazon’s open review and tagging model to highlight unpopular products or issues. Probably most common is negative comments on Facebook. Also, see Turnier’s article "When Twitter Hashtags Attack." These items and more give brand managers insomnia as they seek positive ways to deal with negative images.

The good side of brand jacking is that you’ve definitely cut through the clutter when the consumer sees fit to adopt your product as the name for the thing. You are the brand. You’re what the consumer expects and you influence how they evaluate similar products. That’s brand nirvana in my book.

In DayGlo’s case, the brand has become the word and something pretty unique happened that the company didn’t sanction. Back in 2006 on college campuses in Florida, the world’s largest paint party began. It was called DAYGLOW. Close spelling, same sounding, but not exactly the same moniker as DayGlo Color Corporation. Of course, consumers aren’t paying any attention to the slight spelling change. What’s a “W” anyway, except a way around some legalese (I’m betting)?

It's still going on today. DAYGLOW, the event, promises high-energy music, art, dance, and PAINT in one mind-blowing performance where dayglo, no I mean, fluorescent paint, is sprayed onto a waiting audience. What a way to engage young consumers in a positive brand experience. The text between two girlfriends would read, “Covered in dayglo and dancing my a-- off."

I sympathize with DayGlo as this scenario is like giving my daughter the car keys. It is difficult to let go of your brand and allow your fans to take control; but in this case, DayGlo the company was never in control. They were completely removed from the equation. The fans were followers of the performance experience, not the paint.

I know these fans aren’t differentiating between any fluorescent paint and the real DayGlo paint, yet I can’t help but believe that their participation and enthusiasm is instrumental in popularizing the paint and the company. And when, during the concert, they’re sprayed with paint, that’s a fun-filled introduction to a product they wouldn’t have thought twice about before. It also makes me consider the power of crowdsourcing in creating awareness. Maybe the lesson here is: Get noticed, and invite your brand to a party. What do you think?

If you’re wondering what happened to Larry, The Target — he met his demise in a shoot-out in his hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. He probably would have been okay if his fashion sense had been better. At the time of the shooting he was wearing a long overcoat. It was DayGlo pink.