Hijack: When Unintended Segments Desire Your Brand
by Greg Thomas
managing brands it is the brand's manager job to develop and propagate
their brand's identity. Brand identity is the core meaning that
the brand managers want the brand to convey. However, it is the
customer who has ownership of the brand image. The brand image
is the representation of the brand in the consumer's mind. The
brand image is created through penultimately through marketing
communications, but ultimately through the consumer's experience
with all the brand touchpoints. This experience includes the synergistic
or atrophic effects the user has with other users of the brand.
As such the ownership of the brand image is not totally under
the control of the marketer, as brand image is the sum of the
meaning that customers actually perceive in their relationship
with the brand.
brand identity and brand image are perfectly overlapping. That
occurs when the customers perceived brand image is exactly what
the brand managers intended when crafting the brand identity.
Although this is the ideal, often the case is that brand identity
and brand image are skewed. The degree of the skew can be minute,
where the two are near identical or vast so little of the two
overlap. In this sense, marketers are less like a typical marionetter
pulling the strings of the brand, and more like Gepetto in crafting
a brand that takes on a life of its own. As brand managers we
design the core of the puppet, but the market breathes life into
the brand and, like Pinocchio, it takes on its own character.
the extreme case your brand image might not only be skewed from
its identity, but it also can be desired by totally unintended
market segments. Imagine you decide to throw a formal party and
most of the people who show up are party crashers. Was your party
a success or failure? Well, the answer is that depends on the
intended purpose of party. Likewise, in brand management there
are times when we craft a brand identity which targets a specific
market segment and everything progresses smoothly until one day
an unintended market segment decides to hijack your brand.
Brand Hijack A Blessing or A Curse?
brand hijack a blessing or a curse? The answer to just about every
marketing question is "that depends." When does it matter
whether your brand is hijacked or not? Let's explore this topic.
For various market segments you can classify brands into aspirational
brands and consumptive brands. Aspirational brands are those that
are coveted by a certain set of customers, yet they are out of
reach for them. Rappers often rap about things like Lamborghinis
and Maybach cars, however these are simply brand dreams for most
people as only a small percent of the population can afford one.
Priced starting at $315,000 a Maybach is not quite affordable
for most people not listed on the Fortune Richest People index.
Maybach, a Mercedes-Benz division, estimates that there are only
200,000 thousand people with a net worth above $10 million in
the US. The company has only sold 500 of the cars worldwide in
2004, with half of those sold in the US. This is a miniscule percentage
of the overall car market, yet just about everyone that watches
MTV knows the Maybach brand. Is this brand hijacking of the Maybach
brand a precarious situation for Mercedes-Benz? Not quite. When
it comes to ultra luxury there's usually no harm in having more
people know your brand's customers have got the ultimate bling.
brand, in contrast to an aspirational brand, is a brand that is
actually consumed by a market segment. Consumptive brands can
be categorized as being of either covert consumption or overt
consumption. A brand that is covertly consumed is one where the
brand usage is opaque to other consumers. Video games are usually
covertly consumed. If you launch a brand of video game targeted
at kids, but it is taken on by the young adult market there is
usually no adverse effects for the kid market. The only kids that
might be put off are the ones who would not be caught alive playing
the same game as their parents.
consumption of brands is found when a brand is used in a way where
other consumers can see the usage of the brand. In this case the
user identity become part of the brand image. When a certain market
segment uses a brand the brand consumption may be either partitioned
or unpartitioned. With partitioned consumption a brand is used
in situations where other market segments are separated from the
consumption experience. When Rap singers sang about Tanqueray
gin, its popularity spread beyond the traditional anglo-saxon
gin-and-tonic crowd. Since the consumption of Tanqueray at rap
events is segmented from the aged stiff upper lip consumers the
brand hijack is a more of a blessing than a curse. You have just
extended into a new market with essential vitality, while retaining
a hold on the original market.
some brands the consumption of the brand is unpartitioned. That
means that when one unintended market segment latches onto your
brand its consumption is widely perceived by the traditional market
segment that previously owned the consumption brand, as well as
to other unpenetrated segments. With unpartitioned consumption
the usage of the brand by the new market segment thereby attributes
to a shift in the brand image for the original core market segments,
due to the new user imagery evoked by the new users. Should new
users of the brand be encouraged when there is unpartitioned consumption?
This is a tricky question. The brand manager has the precarious
job of deciding whether the consumption by this new group is attractive
or not. The brand manager ultimately needs to determine which
effects will occur through intersegment interaction, and subsequently
what effects this will have on the financial performance of the
firm. Part of the job is to figure out if the consumption pattern
is faddish or not. Of course, if a new segment hijacks your brand,
changes the brands image, and then drops it shortly thereafter
for the next big thing it would be unwise to support the new market
segment. However, this is not so simple a question as the faddishness
or sustainability of the brand can be influenced by efforts the
if the consumption is sustainable it is up to the brand manager
to decide which market segment to pursue. And of course the right
segment to pursue is an economic value added question. The brand
manager needs to decide which segments are best to serve for the
well being of the organization. The city of Cancun, a resort city
on the Caribbean, has been facing these questions. The brand Cancun
is becoming associated with wild and crazy Bacchanalian spring
breakers overloaded with beer, tequila, clubbing and raging sex
hormones. Although the Spring Break crowd represents only 1% of
the visitors to Cancun, the image of Cancun is becoming dominated
by the crazy collage crowd user imagery, which is disseminated
widely on television shows. Cable channels providing in depth
coverage of the revelry include MTV and E! Entertainment.
has the powers-that-be in Cancun worried that these brand hijackers
will adversely effect the choice of travel destination by the
more lucrative newly-wed, golfer and eco-tourist segments. To
counter this hijacking the city has launched a Civility Pact,
which is a code of public behavior designed to limit the overindulgences
by the spring break crowd. The police will patrol bar, clubs and
elsewhere in the role of lion tamers. In doing so the city is
hoping to reduce its attractiveness to the Spring Break crowd.
With this new policy they are hoping to reduce its 40,000 spring
breakers from 2004 to a more manageable 30,000 this year.
unpartitioned consumption is not always a bad thing. Corona beer
was first brewed in 1925 by Ceveceria Modelo, and was first imported
into the United States in 1979. Clearly between 1925 and 1979
Corona was a Mexican beer for Mexican people. As the story goes,
surfers from California discovered Corona back in the 1970s while
on surfaris. Usually served with a wedge of lime, the brand became
associated with escape. It was instant beach in a bottle. This
helped propel Corona's consumption in the US up since 1979 to
surpass Heineken in 1997 as the number one imported beer. The
beer can now be found in over 150 countries, and is the fifth-best
selling beer in the world. Clearly, this hijacking by surfers
in the 1970's was a blessing for Groupo Modelo, and Anheuser-Bursch
which currently owns 50% of the company.
Pacific is another brand that got hijacked. This time the brand
originated in the surfer market. Ocean Pacific, or Op for short,
originated in the 1960s as a surfboard label. In 1972 the brand
was extended into a line of clothing starting with surf trunks
and walk shorts, and later with Hawaiian shirts. In 1977 Op started
to sponsor the Association of Professional Surfers and its brand
became not only synonymous with surf culture but also the clothing
of professional surfers. In the 1980's with surf culture becoming
mainstream, Op became a household name and was sought out by surfers,
aspirational surfers, skaters, and snowboarders. Things went well
for a while, but in its accelerated growth the brand managers
lost the mystique of the brand when they started mainstreaming
in distribution and selling through "uncool" places
like Kmart. And while losing some of its mystique the market for
surf clothes became populated with a plethora of competitive brands.
As a result Op sales slumped for a decade. It wasn't until 1998
that a new management team revitalized the brand by reconstructing
a promotional team of athletes, musicians and celebrities.
from Hijacked to a Smooth Landing
what have we learned? There are some simple rules when it comes
to your brand being hijacked.
your brand becomes an aspirational brand, let it be.
your brand has concealed consumption, promote to the new segment.
your brand has partitioned consumption, promote to the new segment.
your brand has sustainable unpartitioned consumption, weight
the benefits of supporting the new segment with impact on your
original target segments. However, keep in mind that you do
not totally control the brand. Unless you can enforce policies
like the government did in Cancun, your potential for dissuading
a new segment from desiring your brand could be as hard as keeping
moths away from a bright light at night.
if you decide to pursue the new market segment that you cannot
force a round peg in a square hole. You will have to totally rethink
your strategy, and quite possibly pursue new value propositions,
distribution channels, communication and pricing strategies.
Thomas is the Director of Research for the Zyman Institute
of Brand Science (ZIBS). ZIBS is a collaborative organization
based at Emory University's Goizueta Business School that leads
the development of cutting-edge insights in branding for driving
OP History, http://www.op.com/history/, Accessed 4, 18, 2005
Geri and Lauren Gard "Life's a Beach for Corona," BusinessWeek,
Feb 7th, 2005
break from spring break," The Economist, March 10, 2005
Julie. "Selling Luxury to Everyone," http://hbswk.hbs.edu/pubitem.jhtml?id=4759&sid=-1&t=special_reports,
Accessed April 18, 2005