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5 Engagements That Went Horribly Wrong

It is inevitable that brands will try to leverage 'passion points' as a way to create meaning and relevancy for brands. However, it's not always as easy as it looks.

At  the  most  simplistic level, connecting with passion points is an attempt to garner attention in a  time-starved world. There are, after all, a huge range of brands with similar functional and emotional  benefits.

It  could also be a way that brands attempt to leverage key “cultural moments” in the hope that such an attachment will become fixed in the minds of consumers.

And finally – at its most sophisticated – this drive for connection can also be a search for values that  can be  profitably transferred from a cultural entity to a brand.

Sometimes all three factors propel brands in their push to become part of the cultural conversation.

But if it’s clear what brands get out of it, a successful positioning must deliver a value exchange that works for all the parties involved: the brand, the property and the people.

There is a détente that has to be observed in order for everyone to come out ahead. It is a delicate  balance that brands get wrong entirely too often.

In fact – like any unwelcome  party guest – such mistakes can be classified into one of five categories.

1. The Overbearing Bore
We have all met them. You and your friends are having a great time  when  a loudmouth barges  in on the  conversation and won’t stop talking about himself. Everyone makes a mental commitment to escape at the first opportunity, and the host is criticised for his poor handling  of the guest list.

In the UK, the Premier League’s Newcastle United has played at  its  stadium,  St  James’  Park,  since  1892.  For  the  people of Newcastle, the club and the stadium  were irrevocably connected. It’s understandable, then, that the re-naming of the ground to the “Sports Direct Arena” did the brand no favours.

2. The Tight-Fisted Party-goer
If someone  is kind enough  to invite you to a party, the unspoken rule is that you bring a gift (a bottle, a box of chocolates)  that helps everyone  have a good time and feel appreciated.

The  Olympics  is  an  inclusive  celebration of sport that should inspire and unite visitors from around the world, but Visa’s contribution to this party  was to prevent fans from buying tickets or using ATMs unless they used a Visa card.

The company  suggested that “the easiest way to obtain  a Visa card is to contact your existing bank… Alternately, anyone can purchase a Visa prepaid  card from a Visa card issuer, which can be used immediately. Please visit the Visa website for details.”

I hope  that  this  was effective  at  driving  down  their  cost per acquisition, but what it didn’t do is deliver the desired “sweet spot”: a positive value exchange with the fans.

3. The One Night Stand
It all seemed  to be going so well. You met, found that you had  quite a  bit in  common, spent a little  quality time together and then… nothing. S/he didn’t call.

Here’s a little test for UK readers: who sponsored the FA Cup before Budweiser? Who has taken over the League Cup?

In  other  markets, simply  change  the  name  of the competitions and  ask  yourself  the  same  questions. Building connectivity with consumers requires long-term commitment.

4. The Naif
You like fancy dress and your more glamorous  friends said it was going to be a fun party. You arrive and discover that everyone else is dressed in rubber. You make your excuses and leave.

The problem with popular culture is that it can be unpredictable, which causes huge problems for brand management. Whether it’s Tiger Woods or Kate Moss, brands  need to be comfortable  with not only the opportunity, but also the risks of working with figures and topics in popular culture.

Although  Cristal  Champagne saw sales  shoot  through  the  roof because  of its association with hip hop aristocracy, the CEO’s comment  that he regarded  the phenomenon with “curiosity” led to a high-profile lambasting by Jay-Z. Know the rules before you decide to play.

5. The Disco-dancing Dad
After alcohol has set to work on your initial party inhibitions, you decide to take to the dance floor and “bust some moves”. A close friend eventually points out that the other party-goers are regarding you with incredulity rather than admiration.

Electrolux may have worked hard to activate its sponsorship of the 2011 Cannes  Film Festival, but the  response from most observers was “?”. The fit between the world’s most glamorous film awards and the  global white goods giant may have been a bridge too far.

The opposite  faux pas is being  over-dressed for an event. Teaming Elizabeth  Hurley and beef jerky  – even if it’s organic – is another partnership that simply doesn’t fit (yes, this really happened).A

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