Brand Brief: Monsters in Smart Cars; Saints on Harleys

Are we really the brand we drive?

A few minutes ago, ed while I was driving home from my son’s daycare Halloween parade (and yes, order he wore his bat costume again) I got cut off on the road by an aggressive jerk. Weaving in and out of traffic, healing speeding, talking on a cell phone, throwing a smoking cigarette out the window – you know the kind. But now that I’ve described him, what kind of car do you picture him driving?

Photo from the Flickr stream of cornillious.
Chances are, this isn't what you're picturing (Photo from the Flickr stream of cornillious).

It was a Smart Car

That’s right, this jerk wasn’t driving an over-sized SUV, an expensive look-at-me luxury roadster, a rusted muscle car, or his mom’s minivan – any of which might have popped into your mind when I said “a jerk cut me off”. Well shame on you for being so narrow minded!

This jerk was creating dangerous road situations in a a cute little, enviro-friendly, fuel-sipping, tree-embracing Smart Car! And when I saw it, a little part of my brain popped. It seemed like an oxymoron, like a Ferrari doing the speed limit, or a Harley with a muffler.

But why should that surprise anyone?

Think about your preconceptions of Smart Car drivers for a moment. ┬áNow think about how those perceptions of the people are shaped by the car’s design, the current global warming “zeitgeist”, the smart growth movement, and of course by the Smart brand with its perfect name and focused line of extensions.

The thing that went “pop” in my mind was betrayal: this jerk was knocking down my positive stereotypes of Smart Car drivers, and I resented that.

Now think about your brand

Ask your self a few questions:

  • What preconceptions and stereotypes are built in to your product when people buy it?
  • Are these expectations positive or negative for your brand image and values?
  • Are the people “driving” your brand living up to the positive expectations?
  • If they’re not, is your brand strong enough to make the odd jerk look like the exception rather than the rule?

In this case, my mental image of Smart Cars survived the encounter, and this jerk even made my affection for Smart a bit stronger since part of my indignation was on behalf of the brand – as in “how dare you do that to something I treasure!”

Smart branders know their tribes and cultivate them with carefully tuned messages. The tag line from freecountry.harley-davidson.comsays it all: "Screw it. Let's ride."
Smart branders know their tribes and cultivate them with carefully tuned messages. The tag line from freecountry.harley-davidson.com says it all: "Screw it. Let's ride."