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Things to Consider in 2014: Associations
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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We are just a few days into the new year, and agencies and brands are looking for ways and techniques to start the year off right. We are sure many of you have combed lists of "technology to watch for" and other "hottest trends," but we wanted to bring attention to some activities you previously may not have thought about.

The way our minds work is fascinating. We cannot look at a single piece of information and declare it as known. No, we pair and associate data with experiences, concepts, and other information. Example: Coke aptly paired itself with family experiences and worldwide togetherness. Pepsi paired itself with the "up-and-coming." Tiffany's paired itself with fabulous luxury. 

Brands win that way.

The two subjects we would like to direct your attention today are music and media. If pairing your brand with certain objects, experiences, and concepts is key to successful campaigns, one must rely not just on the quality of the product you are providing (though quality will keep the consumer coming back) but with what the brand is paired.

On Music: The Artist and the Music Video

For the past several years, more emphasis and criticism has been heard about objectivism in the media and advertising. In many cases, the concepts created by both media personnel and advertisers are sexual in nature. Especially when it comes to music. An article from The Guardian highlighted this point. It mentioned how music videos are gotten even more popular due to the Internet, and that musicians are capitalizing on it. The author pointed out that Beyoncé even launched an album with 17 music videos. That's intense. But many of the popular artists (and not-so-popular) are posting music videos online and are becoming part of the social fabric. Consumers watch these videos, and social norms and stereotypes are being reinforced. 

Many brands like to pair with popular musicians and artists. Is your association with the likes of Kanye West or Miley Cyrus helping or damaging your brand? Are you picking associations only because of eyeballs, or are you actually building a cohesive strategy based on like audiences and a favorable crossover? 

On Media: Avoiding Hate-Watching

"Hate-watching" became a popular phrase towards the end of 2012. What it implies, if you are unaware, is that people watch shows because either 1) they love watching a train wreck or 2) they secretly like it and hate that they do, so saying they "hate" it protects their social reputation.

It is of our opinion that brands and marketers should avoid shows that carry that kind of following. Here's why.

As we said in the opening, consumers use pairings and associations to give meaning to everything we see. To illustrate: imagine if Clorox bought advertising space on Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. In our friend circle, almost no one (willfully admits) that they watch the show. Those who do say that they watch it because it's awful. So the association here is: Honey Boo-Boo = awful. Now, let's say Clorox bought multiple spots during the show, and people continued to see Clorox during a show that they think is awful. The association? Honey Boo-Boo + Clorox = awful.

It sounds over-simplified, but the data agrees in a similar situation. During football games, if the game is highly competitive and enjoyable, the ad recall is higher than during games that are boring, or that are blowouts. The more unenjoyable an experience, the worse off the brand is for pairing with it.

We have said time and time again, the advertising landscape is a beautiful place to be. But in order to succeed, just like in life, we need to watch our associations. 

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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