Occasionally, when I’m tired of doing anything vaguely productive, I wander over to brandtags.net, where I inevitably waste more time than I intend to. You may have visited brandtags.net already . It’s been around a couple years and has been written up by lots of folks — Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, ClickZ, Seth Godin, among others. If not — and if you don’t mind losing yourself for a while — give it a whirl. It’s both a running compilation of the perceptions of various well-known brands and an engine for you to input your own instant perceptions of whatever brands the site throws your way: sort of a brandophile’s Rorschach test. (Quick, how would you describe this brand in a word or phrase: Suzuki?) The site now has over a thousand brands tagged with over two million tags, which appear in cloud formation (like the one at left for Volvo), with the descriptions in size proportion to the frequency of their usage.
So here’s some interesting stuff I learned in a few minutes on Brand Tags about luxury automobile brands:
- “Asshole” seems to be about as important an element of the BMW brand as “Engineering,” “Performance,” “Overpriced” and “Snob,” though not as much as “Ultimate Driving Machine” or “Yuppie.”
- Mercedes evokes “Prestige,” Luxury,” “Overpriced,” “Expensive,” and “Nazis.” BMW seems to have a Nazi element, too, but not as strong as Mercedes; go figure.
- Cadillac combines elements of “Classic,” “Expensive,” “Luxury,” “Grandpa,” “Old People,” and “Pimp.” Draw your own conclusions.
- Audi? “German,” of course. “Luxury,” “Performance,” “Sleek.” And how about this — “Olympics?” Seems their logo has made a real impression. (“Star” was significant for Mercedes, too.)
Restaurants are fun, too:
- Boston Market? “Chicken,” “Food,” “Meat,” “Turkey,” “Yuck.”
- Burger King ranges from the obvious — “Hamburgers,” “Fries,” “Junk Food,” “The King,” etc. — to the unsettling “Creepy King” — to the ancient — “Have It Your Way.”
- Here’s a fun and popular association with Dunkin Donuts: “Cops.”
- I guess it’s no surprise “Shit,” “Obesity,” “Disgusting,” and “Yummy” rate high for McDonald’s. But “Evil?” That’s harsh.
What does it all mean?
- For starters, it confirms what we know — that brands over time become extraordinarily rich stews of impressions and perceptions: positive, negative and lots of in between. Those stews ARE the brands. They grow in directions we simply can’t control. If you’re McDonald’s, “Disgusting” is apparently a side of your brand — albeit the dark side. If you’re Dunkin Donuts, you need to accept the popular perception that you’re the place cops hang out. If you’re Mercedes, “Nazis” is something you’d consider unwarranted and irrelevant 65 years after the fall of the Third Reich. But it’s no less real for that — perception in brands is reality. And that reality is constantly evolving as new perceptions enter the mix and old ones either evaporate or grow in intensity. In case we didn’t know it, managing brand perceptions is a 24/7 job, not simply a campaign or three.
- How we brand and communicate makes a difference. Can you believe how vital “Have it your way” still remains for Burger King? Or how important “Engineering” is for BMW, but not for any of its competition? Those are significant brand advantages that grew directly from the product, to the communications, to perceptions. Look at the brand tags for a brand like Boston Market, which has deep penetration and has been around for a while — there are almost no perceptions beyond the most basic (“Chicken,” “Meat,” etc.). Could it be because they’ve never planted any with their communications? Could this be one reason for their struggles?
- The brand experience itself communicates more strongly than anything we say. No amount of communication seems to be able to erase the memory of experiences. Communications can effect the perceptions of those experiences. But they can’t delete them.
Fun, huh? Of course, there is not explicit connection between brand tags and a brand’s success or lack thereof. But if you’re looking to spend a little quality time in Brandland, check it out. And if you register, you’ll be able to play “Guess That Brand,” where you’re presented with a set of brand tags and have to figure out which brand they are for. I found it very humbling.