OPINION: Brand terrorists offer an insight into how the public interpret ads

I was rushing out of Bond Street Tube station in London last week when an ad for Iceland Air, pictured below, literally stopped me in my tracks.

The reason it proved so arresting was not because of any personal resonance I have for the brand, or because of a particularly successful piece of copy. It smashed its way through the daily clutter of hundreds of competing ads because it had been changed.

The original, intended purpose of this ad was to build the brand equity of Iceland and, more directly, to promote it as a place for a future holiday.

But with a swift dash of a black marker pen, one active member of the target market has managed to change its appearance slightly, while effecting a total alteration of what it now communicates.

In fact, the ad's intended impact has been reversed. It now damages Iceland's brand equity by drawing attention to a particularly shameful aspect of its culture and actively serves to discourage London commuters from ever even considering it as a tourist destination.

It is a classic example of a behaviour that has fascinated me for many years.

Typically in consumer research, we study whether or not consumers respond to various marketing stimuli in the prescribed manner. Did they see the ad? Do they recall the brand? Did they buy the product?

But there are notable examples where consumers choose not to respond in the prescribed manner. Instead, they turn the tables on the marketers and become active agents who create their own alternative systems.

I have studied consumer terrorists in the US, who subtly change the logos of multinational corporations to communicate an alternative message (Shell becomes Hell) and then wear these altered logos as a symbol of defiance.

I have also studied gay and lesbian groups who, frustrated by the lack of recognition they are shown by the brands they buy, have created alternative versions of these logos (Nike becomes Dike) and put these on items of clothing that they have sold to other gay consumers. And I have been fascinated by Greenpeace's strategy of using Exxon-Mobil's brand logo (Esso becomes Edollars dollars O) to convey its environmental message.

As marketers, we sometimes assume these are our ads and brands. But in marketing, provenance has little to do with ownership. It is consumers who ultimately decide what ads mean or what brands stand for.

They may not use a black marker pen to signal their opposition or create an unintended interpretation, but this Icelandic example is merely a more explicit manifestation of what all consumers do. They interpret the world in ways that are consistent with their reality, not ours.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Virgin, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug
Thetrainline.com backs 'rubbish' mobile app with TV ad
Powerade launches global World Cup campaign
Subway considers taking fast food to fast lane with F1 sponsorship
Burberry's flagship Shanghai store facade responds to weather changes
Ikea splurges 'grey' Belgium with colour
Grim outlook for Tesco boss Philip Clarke ahead of expected profits fall
Thomson to create first crowd-sourced wedding decided by Facebook fans
Currency wars meets origami in Alpari FX trading ad campaign
Amazon rumoured to launch 3D smartphone in September
Facebook to allow European users to store and transfer money on site, claims report
Unilever pilots multi-brand advertising with YouTube beauty channel
Lego, Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter, Bitcoin and AOL: the digitally creative brands