Being polarizing isn’t a bad thing – it’s necessary. One of the most common sayings in the KW2 halls is that if you’re designing a campaign, a website or a social channel to talk to everybody, you’re really talking to no one. Look around the marketplace at some of the most sought-after brands, you can glance at their logo, their TV spots and their website, and know exactly who they are for and if you’re their intended target audience.
Humans are hardwired to categorize everything. In an effort to understand the world, it’s necessary for humans to put everything in buckets and map things into what are called “semantic neighborhoods.” People’s brains will compare two like items (Citibank versus Bank of America) in the same neighborhood; this extends to how we view ourselves. The most surefire way to give consumers an affinity towards your brand before purchase is to enable them to park themselves in the same semantic neighborhood as your brand. The consumer needs to see herself in your brand and to do that your brand needs a strong identity.
How does this work in the real world? The “most inclusive” global event is happening this summer and its lackluster logo is a prime example of how designing for everyone fails. The 2016 Rio Olympics logo is a dated and watered-down version of the “contagious energy” and “exuberant nature” of the Carioca* soul it claims to represent. The worst part is, it’s not alone. Olympic logos have a grand tradition of being a snoozefest. The only recent exception was 2012’s London Olympics logo. Like it or not – it’s memorable and was polarizing.
Whether or not their brand identity speaks to you, a great example of polarizing branding is Sports Clips. Sports Clips is unabashedly “Haircuts for Men.” It’s not enough to feature sports channels on multiple screens at the barber and have a website that shouts “It’s good to be a guy!” It’s necessary for them to exclude women in their advertising – thus ensuring macho men can get their “mini Man Break” with likeminded individuals. Whether or not you agree with the stance, it’s a strong brand that allows the company’s target audience identify with Sports Clips. And it’s working; they’ve been alive, well and franchising since 1995.
Southwest Airlines is another polarizing brand. Their drive to be THE low-cost airline requires them to attract people who don’t take themselves too seriously – both as customers and as employees. Southwest’s refusal to assign seats, their practice of assigning boarding order based on when you checked in for your flight, and their free-baggage check combine to ensure that they’re attracting laidback travelers and keeping them that way. The airline also encourages flight attendants to go “off script” for safety announcements and terminal crew members to play basketball in their down time. This does not attract the elite traveler, but does resonate with folks who want to get where they’re going with as few frills and headaches as possible.
If you close your eyes and think of a modern successful brand, you’ll most likely begin to visualize specific color sets, products and attitudes associated with that brand. This isn’t an accident. In order to have a target audience that parks itself in the same semantic neighborhood as your brand, you need to take a stance. Beige is forgettable. Be bold with your brand.