Shadow brands

Once I started my research project (National Science Centre; no 2014/15/B/HS4/00844) on brand equity online, I realized that something is wrong with my perception of high equity brands. As I work with the biggest brands, I am aware of their powers and I tend to consider them very important in contemporary marketplace. And it seems that consumers are thinking in the same way: high equity brands are equal to meaningfulness and high significance. At the focus group interviews you can always find a person who would say “I can’t imagine working with any other computer than my Mac”, or “Traveling with Toyota gives me a peace of mind – it won’t break down”, or “I regularly take part in Camp Jeep; it is a key point of my every holiday plan”. Such statements reveal high ability of the biggest brands to drive considerable emotional attachment. Such statements encouraged Keller and Aaker in the 1990s to build their brand equity models.
But these models were created years ago... .

Apparently, most (if not all of them) brands are insignificant, meaningless and invisible to consumers. I started to investigate this phenomenon and I termed it “shadow brands”. Shadow brands are a little paradoxical in nature i.e. they have pretty high recognition indicators and they may be consumed regularly, but we can’t discriminate them from our everydayness; they stay in the shadow of our everyday activities, work, personal problems, family responsibilities etc. Most of brands consumed are meaningless (overshadowed), regardless of purchase involvement on consumer’s part, nor complexity and durability of the product. 

I ran a series of qualitative studies which tested the above phenomenon. Based on the collected data, I identified several determinants of shadow brands. They all come down to the following two:

1. Individually perceived significance of the situation, in which a brand is consumed (e.g. psychological, social or cultural importance of consumption).

2. Individually perceived number of problems that a brand solves.

The less utility a brand provides and the less important its consumption, the greater the probability for it to stay in a shadow. If we take into consideration all the brands we consume in our lives, we can place them somewhere within the following pyramid:

Shadow brands_MKarpinska-Krakowiak
Most brands stay in shadow (the base of the pyramid), as their consumption is not socially, culturally, nor psychologically, important and they do not provide much solutions to any problems. These can be either high involvement brands or low risk product categories. These can be Audi, Mercedes or even Coca-Cola. As the significance of consumption increases and the number of issues addressed by a brand grows, one can observe its movement out of shadow (upwards the pyramid).

What does it mean for practice?

It basically means that traditional measures of brand equity are not fully reasonable nowadays. Keller and Aaker invented fabulous models in the 1990s, but people do not use this language in describing brands any more. There is a growing demand for new measures which would illustrate how people really perceive brands. Given highly intangible nature of shadow brands, it won’t be easy to uncover such new perceptual patterns.

Best examples of branding efforts in social media (part II)

We continue presenting different examples of branding efforts in social media (you can have a look at part I here). Just to remind you: we categorise them into one out of the following groups

(1) digital storytelling - using narratives in order to introduce audiences into the world and philosophy of a brand

(2) digital humor - making fun of consumers or a brand itself in order to gain attentention of audiences

(3) alternate virtual reality - producing a digital reality with a brand in order to make a brand memorable and easier to choose

(4) digital play - using game and play mechanics in order to get audiences involved.

FRANK’S REDHOT – digital storytelling based on rough humor

This is a brand of hot sauces in a Reckitt Benckiser’s portfolio. Allegedly the recipes, that this brand thrives on, date back to XIX century! The core idea behind Frank’s Redhot advertising is to animate this brand by means of elderly woman named Ethel. She is a grotesque character, who bluntly explains her recipes in front of prestigious and significant personnages (e.g. the Queen), thus making an “I Put that S*** on everything” a powerful and hilarious punchline.

Due to a nice combination of storytelling and humor, these commercials became an online and offline sensation. They were supplemented with game and play mechanisms e.g. consumers were encouraged to publish their own recipes with Frank’s RedHot sauce and vote for their favorite ones; to take pictures with the brand and share it online etc.



OREO – digital storytelling

Okay, we know that everybody looks up to Oreo, which is one of the most creative brands online. But anyway it needs to be mentioned here as an icon of online branding.

Firstly, Oreo producers introduced a ritualized consumption into the world of advertising, but this will be discussed here another time. More importantly, they popularised a concept of “real-time marketing” (often substituted with “response marketing”), which is about anticipating and reacting immediately to the most important and groundbreaking events in our everydayness (e.g. first “human” steps on Mars, winning gold medal at the Olympics, Panda Shin Shin giving birth to its first offspring, establishing “a Pirate Day”) and translating them into a brand narrative. 

Have a look at Oreo Daily Twist campaign and you will understand this concept right away:

Anybody wonders what idea lies behind Oreo’s new advertising campaign with cartoon characters eating cookies? Well, again – an attempt to animate a brand by means of storytelling.

The campaign is called “Wonderfilled” and it introduces many dark fairytale characters (e.g. Big Bad Wolf), who can be tamed or made more friendly once they try Oreo. As Janda Lukin, (Senior Director of Oreo at Mondelez International, Inc.) puts it "It starts with a very simple premise, about how something as small as an Oreo cookie can bring about a positive change in perspective"*.

Very aspirational storytelling, which, I’m afraid, hardly anybody gets. As much as I like Oreo’s advertising, sometimes it stretches the story too far… .

As the time passes by, almost every brand online makes an attempt to benefit from "response marketing based on storytelling" as Oreo did. 

Old Spice, for example, combined grotesque humor with real-time marketing:


and PepsiCo:

Sincity movie premiere (2014)

Poland-Germany football game (2014)

Xmas (2015)

...and many others. All of them are more or less successful in understanding the concept, but Coca-Cola makes the most of it:


Co-author: Artur Modliński

Best examples of branding efforts in social media (part I)

Me and Artur Modlinski are working together on my research project titled building brand equity in social media. As this study involves collecting many instances of real branding examples from social media environment, we would like to share with you some most valuable extracts from our case studies.

We will be discussing here most flashy examples from different industries and we will categorise them into one out of the following groups:

(1) digital storytelling - using narratives in order to introduce audiences into the world and philosophy of a brand

(2) digital humor - making fun of consumers or a brand itself in order to gain attentention of audiences

(3) alternate virtual reality - producing a digital reality with a brand in order to make a brand memorable and easier to choose

(4) digital play - using game and play mechanics in order to get audiences involved.

Today we start with luxuries.


This brand is famous for fantastic luxury shoes with red-leather soles. Red bottoms became Louboutins’ signature.


# 1: Louboutin's Angels - digital storytelling
This company produced seven short videos to promote its pop-up shoe store at the Cannes festival. They featured 3 girls disguised as Charlie’s Angels who were supposed to complete some secret mission. The idea was to make audience guess the real goal of that mission. The final episode revealed the link between 3 Louboutin’s Angels and official gala in Cannes.

Surprisingly you cannot find these videos on official Louboutin You Tube channel and they did not gain as much visibility as it had been supposed (have a look here).

Pity, because Louboutin can make really fantastic advertising, e.g. I like this one very much, and its idea of "what happens under the table, stays under the table"... . 

#2: Louboutin Shades - alternate virtual reality

Louboutin developed a mobile application by means of which customers had a chance to find their favorite Louboutins and try them on. This application was largely applauded by brand fans who could have literally pictured themselves in a nice pair of Louboutins without having to leave their homes...

.. nor spending much money.


#3 Who killed Amazoula - alternate virtual reality
And finally some mistery and puzzle to solve! Instead of a boring look book for an upcomming season, Louboutin offers something special: a story of a woman who was killed (allegedly) for her amazing collection of shoes. The viewers are provided with crime details, suspects, potential motives, and are encouraged to start their own investigation. 

And gorgeaus shoes are everywhere: 

Chanel took us by surprise, as we did not expect so much branding materials. 

#1 Inside Chanel - corporate storytelling
Chanel produced a series of short movies presenting company’s heritage and history. The videos depicted most important corporate personages, ideas, products, and historical turning points which had changed the world of fashion forever. Up till now Chanel provided 14 separate branded films (so called chapters) titled: 

Another nice example of corporate storytelling is a series of films made by Karl Lagerfeld. They all try to cover happy and successful moments of Coco's life and employ famous actresses to play the role of Coco. In “Once upon a time...”, for example, we can watch Keira Knightly as Gabriele Chanel and discover a story about her first boutique. "The Return", on the other hand, features Geraldine Chaplin, and "Once and Forever" - Kristen Stewart.
Regarder ici:

#2 Makeup Revelations - alternate virtual reality
And something more ordinary: a year ago, the company hired Lisa Eldrige (one of the most popular make-up artist) to produce a series of tutorials and demonstrate product usage (i.e. how to make the professional make-up, avoid most common mistakes and hide imperfections). Eldrige was presenting the universal tips as well as more unconventional stylizations. The same convention was used in "Chanel Beauty Talks", when the company had made a set of interviews with celebrities about make-up tips, cosmetics and beauty rituals (each episode was supposed to reveal a beauty secret of another famous person).

Co-author: Artur Modliński

The Effects of Social Networking Sites on Consumer-Brand Relationships

Few days ago my manuscript on consumer-brand relationships got published in the high-profile Journal of Computer Information Systems. I encourage all practitioners and scholars to have a look at it, as my research was one of the first experimental study in this specific area.

Building brand equity in social media

After fascinating holiday it is time to embark on a new research project. Thanks to financial support given by National Science Centre (project number: 2014/15/B/HS4/00844), in a few days we will start really impressive experimental research on brand equity in social media.


Social media generate new patterns of online consumer behavior and they are largely understudied by scholars. The existing literature on brand equity appears to be very fragmented and inconclusive. One of my favourite quotes about this situation is: "Perhaps the only thing that has not been reached with regard to brand equity is a conclusion" (Berthon et al. 2001). Our study will, therefore, provide an empirical and complex evaluation of customer-based brand equity building possibilities in a new environment of social media. Its major purpose is to examine the ability of social media to advance customer-based brand equity and asses the significance of selected individual factors across product categories. This study will result in building a model which is expected to illustrate causal relationships between a wide spectrum of variables.


We will use a classic controlled experiment with 2 measurements - prior and after experimental treatment. The total sample will be divided into groups - each running one out of two experimental conditions (i.e. ‘yes’ social media vs. ‘no’ social media). To properly examine the relationships suggested in our research framework, structural equation modelling (SEM) will be adopted.

So excited!

Berthon, J.P., Capon, N., Hulbert, J., Murgolo-Poore, N.J., Pitt, L. & Keating, S. (2001) Organizational and Customer Perspectives on Brand Equity: Issues for Managers and Researchers. Auckland: ANZMAC, Massey University.

Alternate Reality Games in brand promotion (II)

Finally! My next manuscript on Alternate Reality Games and their role in branding gets published. Recommended to all practitioners, who are hesitating whether to use this tool or not.