Branding: a river runs through it


Brands used to be carried around the big top of popular culture in triumph.  Clowns scattered.  Children thrilled. The crowd roared.

Now culture and commerce are so changeable, disaster is always near at hand.  It’s harder to keep pace.  It’s harder to stay put.  Brands no longer move in triumph.  Now it’s all they can do to hang on. 

There are two ways to restore the brand to glory. 

The first is to give it a new breadth of reference.  The brand has to talk to lots of smaller consumer segments.  And we’re not talking about the long tail brands here, but "fat middle" ones.  These must make their great big markets out of lots of little ones.

The second is constantly to renew the freshness of the brand, to keep the brand in touch with the hyperactivity of popular culture.  After all, the phrase "attention span" is now a misnomer. My attention stopped "spanning" a long time ago.  Now it tends to hop and skip and…I’m sorry, what was I saying again?

Yesterday, I found a nice solution from Aquafina (the water brand from PepsiCo).  According to Jon Lafayette and TelevisionWeek, Aquafina has done a deal with IFC (Independent Film Channel) to sponsor a website that will show short films submitted by the public. 

The website will be called Media Lab (which will surely interest the people at MIT).  Evan Fleischer sees the website as a way to build the IFC brand. 

One of our core missions is to provide filmmakers with a place where they can express themselves unedited and uncut.  That’s the way we run it on the network and the way we run it online.

No doubt, Media Lab will do good things for IFC but what impresses me is how well it works for Aquafina.  Media Lab builds a shunt into the brand through which the most contemporary of contemporary culture can run like a river. 

IFC is not going to edit this material.  Some of it will be bad film making.  Some of it will be outrageous film making.  Aquafina doesn’t need to care.  It is close enough to take credit and far enough away to avoid contamination (when this might occur).  Now it has a constant stream of various meanings and absolutely current ones running through it. 

This needn’t be the sum and total of the brand.  It will be a relatively small part of the meaning portfolio.  But there it is what Michael Hammer, senior brand manager, calls a "more alternative [and] unique way[] to complement the other media that we have."

Brilliant.  We have seen something like this strategy before.  Absolut did a particularly brilliant campaign in which the bottle was made to take up residence in the city.  Yellow taxi cabs in Manhattan in the shape of the Absolut bottle, say.  Benson and Hedges, the British cigarette brands, did something similar.

The IFC "river runs through it" strategy is in some ways more effective and vital.  It brings diverse and current meanings into the brand, better than taking the brand out into the world (as Absolut and Benson and Hedges did). 

I believe we are getting the hang of this, we really are. 


Lafayette, Jon.  2006.  IFC banking on user-made films.  TelevisionWeek.  February 6, 2006, pp. 6. 18.

3 thoughts on “Branding: a river runs through it

  1. Steve Portigal

    Thanks for explaining what this is about. I saw an ad on IFC for it, and it didn’t really make sense (maybe I was a little half-asleep at the time) and couldn’t figure out why Aquafina’s name was on it, etc.

    I remember fondly when Sundance and IFC were more purist channels that didn’t run extensive ads for other company’s products or even their own. IFC, for example, has become almost like TNT with popups running over the credits of films announcing what’s next, or what’s just been seen, or whatever.

    I become less interested in (and less connected with) IFC the more of their own product they start to create and the more of their over-branded special events they start to offer.

  2. Kevin Marks

    If you haven’t read it, go out now and get Chris Locke’s “Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices” , which succinctly and psychedelically predicted and explained how to do this 5 years ago.

  3. Eric

    With “popular culture” simply popping with effervescent change, there is certainly a distinction to be made between “iconic” brands and brands that are simply leveraging “fads” or five minutes of fame.

    Doug Holt did a good job of describing what it takes to be (and not to be) and iconic brand, in the true sense of the word. See “How Brands Become Icons” from HBS Press.

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