Has The battle for Brand Differentiation Gone Too Far?
As brands and branders struggle to cut through the information-flooded lives of their customers, the search for new and different ways to connect with markets is becoming more and more extreme. Automotive brand Mini recently took the innovative step of sponsoring the weather – a cold front in Europe to be exact – with disastrous consequences.
In a branding campaign designed to literally reinforce Mini’s ‘cool brand’ status, they sponsored a storm cell in Germany that has killed more than 70 people and put another 500 in hospital.
UK Newspaper; The Independent reports Mini paid €299 ($AUD368) to sponsor the weather system, a practice that is allowed in Germany and the US. Mini named the cold front ‘Cooper’ to promote its Mini Cooper product before tragedy struck.
The death tolls from the freezing weather were highest in Poland and the Ukraine where at least 40 people died, the newspaper reported. Temperatures plummeted to as low as -33C as the cold front from Siberia headed west over central and south-eastern Europe. The mounting fatalities lent a “sinister” aspect to Germany’s practice of allowing companies to sponsor high and low pressure weather systems, the Independent wrote.
As brands look to new mediums to express themselves the risk/reward balance changes – this is the side of innovation rarely discussed. We typically recognize brands who create fresh, new communication campaigns without acknowledging the courage required to risk the new, and also the potential downside if the risk doesn’t pay-off.
For Mini – one of the worlds more adventurous branders – this one clearly didn’t pay-off. The negative sentiment associated with this branding exercise will no-doubt be felt by the brand – especially across Europe. The challenge for Mini in the short term is managing the fall-out with humility, integrity and genuine sentiment – qualities most large organizations struggle to display. In the mid to longer term the challenge for Mini is to continue to innovate, to not shy-away from exploring the brave new world of brand communications – it was reported that the brand was planning to sponsor another cold front to be called ‘Minnie’ later in the year. I hope the brand manager and branding agency involved in this disaster are not reprimanded too harshly.