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Brand fun

Brand fun

Fundamentally, ‘fun’ is part of the DNA of a select few brands: entertainment brands like theme parks, music festivals, events. It’s what they’re selling: a fun experience. The brand ‘takeaway’ is a fun day and a warm, fun association with the brand. Good memories, a truckload of branded merchandise, (and empty wallets).

It’s not just experiential service brands that are aiming for a fun brand image. Luxury cars, toys, motorcycles, alcohol, fashion, technology, pretty much any physically fun item that is purchased should squarely have a fun brand image, and if it doesn’t there’s something wrong.

It’s easy for these kinds of brands: there’s an instant fun association to the brand due to the product or service output. As long as the product or service delivers as expected, and negative PR is kept to a minimum, they’ll always be fun.

Other brands have to try a bit harder to be fun.

Visual identity experts Turner Duckworth work with some of the world’s largest, most iconic brands including Coca Cola, Burger King, Samsung, Levis, Amazon, Visa, and SKYY vodka.

According to Turner Duckworth, there are five principles that iconic brands need to follow: confidence to be simple, honesty (no overpromising), in-tune with the current culture, highly connected use of icons, and attention to detail. And fun brands are not excused from these brand rules.

Coca-Cola is the world’s largest beverage company, and arguably one of the most valuable (and fun) brands in the world. Their products are sold in more than 200 countries at a rate of 1.7 billion servings per day across their still and sparkling range. With a complex brand hierarchy, each beverage brand has it’s own unique visual identity and meaning, and brand promise.

Coca-Cola has had a longstanding brand association with fun. Coke’s current brand promise is “Coca-Cola brings joy, it’s happiness in a bottle”. That’s a big line to live up to, especially when it’s well known that the brand’s calorie-laden beverage is suspected to contribute to various health problems, including obesity and diabetes. I don’t have diabetes but it doesn’t sound like much fun.

So how do you turn a brand premise like ‘Coke brings joy’ to life? In 2005, Turner Duckworth was engaged by Coca Cola to do just this. They investigated the whole brand framework, trademarks, icons, colour, scale, symbols, patterns, forms, typography, and photography. And all of these elements were audited, researched with users and refined where necessary to ensure they all contributed to the brand DNA “Coke brings joy”.

What they found was that over time, the Coca-Cola brand identity had become fragmented and complicated. They brought it back to basics and cut the visual identity back to its’ roots, without the clutter that a decade of brand promotions and extensions (and a lack of brand control) had brought over the previous ten or so years. The ‘re-vitalised’ Coke brand identity was simple, confident, and had the flexibility work across various media and environments.

According to Vince Voron, Head of Design, North America, “This strategy inspired a multidimensional design landscape that amplifies Coca-Cola equities across all consumer touch-points”. Sounds expensive.

Once the visual identity was sorted and cleaned up, it was time to bring the brand promise to life – because a logo, a bottle design, and a sugary drink doesn’t equal fun, by itself, right? Cue expensive PR consultancy. The ‘joy’ promised by Coca-Cola is delivered through a muti-faceted, world-wide campaign of advertising, sponsorships, and fun brand activations, like this ‘happiness truck’ promotion in the Philippines.

Giveaways are fine, but why are they relevant, and taking a step back, why is fun important in branding?

It’s simple, really. Fun is aspirational: we innately want to be happy, have fun, and seem like fun, happy people. Fun brands aim to be associated with this aspiration in the same way that luxury brands help people associate themselves with wealth.

In the US, the Coke website even has information on what happiness is, some quotes, and even 10 tips to achieving happiness. Coke’s definition of happiness is simple: “Happiness to us is anything that can bring a smile to someone’s face”.

Mountain Dew is another beverage brand that has used large-scale promotions and brand activations to associate fun with its’ brand. At first, it may seem forced, but if you can put the cynic in you aside for a moment, it’s hard to not watch this video, wish you were involved, and have a fun association with the brand.

Back to the commercial reality for a moment: these brand fun-fests mustn’t be cheap, right? Right. But when you consider the Mountain Dew slide video has had over 5.2 million views on YouTube, it’s paid for itself multiple times over in brand association and goodwill.

Mountain Dew slide

Fun. Branded

Speaking of money, even spending money that isn’t yours and getting in to debt seems fun thanks to this Visa promotion in Australia:

Clearly, some brands are not fun, never will be, and definitely shouldn’t try to be. But with the right research, strategy, investment, and activation, the power of a smile and a laugh could help your brand come to life and be relevant. Have fun!

Stuart Austin
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