MBA Perspectives: 'Big Design' is an exclusive AMA series examining customer experience design.
has long revered the flawless qualities of mythical heroes – fortitude,
courage, decency, and perfection. Untainted by the vagaries of life and unfazed
by evil, these characters were the ideal moral archetypes. The traditional hero
myth was an escape from the realities of war, poverty, and famine; a symbol of
hope at a time of darkness. Brands have long advertised to this effect –
prescribing materialism as the path to a “good life” (Belk and Pollay 1985).
the sociocultural landscape has changed and focuses more on the consumer’s
introspective need of self-actualization – the desire for self-fulfillment,
expression, and differentiation (Wolfe and Sisodia 2003). This has provoked a
more rational worldview, prompting individuals to ground themselves in realism
instead of inoculating with the populist fiction of a hero. The suspension of
disbelief has reached its limit, and culture is starting to accept and explore
the underbelly of the human psyche. Audiences have started to fall for darker,
multifaceted, and flawed anti-heroes - the ruthless and manipulative Frank
Underwood of House of Cards, and Breaking Bad’s Walter White, the eccentric
and endearing meth-cooking patriarch who had audiences rooting against the DEA.
entertainment however, how does the flawed hero or anti-hero mythology apply to
brands? Can brands themselves look inwards and bear the risk of a “take me as I
am” approach, warts and all?
Buckley’s Cough Medicine saw a 12.3% surge in market share after releasing its “It tastes
awful but it works” campaign. Domino’s Pizza’s “Pizza Turnaround” campaign featured a bold
confession by the company that its pizza was less than desirable, culminating
in an overhaul of its core recipe and a surge in sales.
Microsoft admitted that
its widely reviled Internet Explorer web browser was indeed difficult to love. Microsoft ultimately
decided to start from scratch and develop a different browser altogether. Las
Vegas has capitalized on its “Sin City” persona as a place for every sordid
desire, a place where everything that happens there, stays there. One may find it
difficult to distinguish the difference between an insecure brand releasing a
PR campaign to stay ahead of the news cycle and an assertive brand candidly
admitting to its faults. In any case, brands have a chance to emerge as
confident and self-assured while creating an authentic identity. Here are our
tips for brand managers interested in designing an anti-hero brand:
1. Acknowledge the
it’s a product attribute or a reputational risk, you already know what your
brand is good at and where you’re lacking. Chances are, consumers also know
about these flaws. Through a heartfelt apology or a satiric (not sarcastic) ad
campaign, acknowledge your shortcomings and open yourself up to the criticism.
2. Reposition the flaw
as part of your story. There are many reasons why you’re already a beloved brand.
Reframe the conversation and integrate your flaws into your mission. Whether
you rationalize your declining customer service quality as part of “growing
pains,” or politely hand a loudmouth CEO who rubbed consumers the wrong way the
pink slip, you own your story – so tell it, and be honest.
3. Stay consistent and
Acceptance is half the battle. The other half is redemption. Consumers want to
see how you plan to improve and because you’ve been honest and sincere, they’ll
root for you. Use your flaws as the building blocks for your longevity and
success as a brand and stick to the plan.
forging an emotional connection and aligning with the deepest desires and
imperfections of consumers, brands have a tangible opportunity to be authentic.
Savvy consumers aren’t looking for morality anymore; they want sincerity. You
don’t have to be perfect all the time, but you also can’t deny when you are not
performing at 100%. So, release a little bit of the gut and wear a little less
makeup – consumers are willing to take you for who you truly are, and that’s a
W. Belk and Richard W. Pollay (1985),
“Images of Ourselves: The Good Life in Twentieth Century Advertising,” Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 4, 887-897.
B. Wolfe and Rajendra Sisodia (2003),
“Marketing to the Self-Actualizing Customer,” Journal of Consumer Marketing, 20, 6, 555-569.