The Mr Whippy Effect – the good, bad and ugly of brand associations
Do you have any idea what ‘Greensleeves’ the song is about? No, I didn’t either.
Apparently, according to Wikipedia, there’s a theory it was composed by Henry VIII for his lover, and future Queen (and future short-term Tower of London resident) Anne Boleyn.
Others say it has nothing to do with the philandering Tudor and is in fact an account of a guy believing he was in with a lady because she was wearing green (apparently associated with promiscuity at the time) only to find out that she wasn’t, in fact, easy.
Anyway, whatever the actual meaning, it’s an old English folk song that has probably become on of the most recognised tunes of all time, but I’d hazard a guess it’s not for reasons the original composer would have intended…
I was recently sitting on the lounge in our apartment in Sydney watching the sun set over the Harbour. And as I was just doing my best Daryl Kerrigan impression to myself (“How’s the serenity?”) I realised that the soundtrack to my twilight musings was being brought to me a la a Mr Whippy van doing the rounds of the suburb. (Which is what we call an ice cream truck in Australia, I have a feeling that could be one of those Aussie-isms that doesn’t make sense to anyone else in the world!)
My first reaction was annoyance - it’s a pretty monotonous tune when you’re stuck listening to it for a while - but I was annoyed as soon as I heard it, and I was also creeped out. My instantaneous association with the music was annoying and creepy.
I was annoyed in preparation for the music to be bouncing around the suburb for ages as the truck did it’s rounds street by street – it’s a bit like the music that’s used in an ad that’s had too much air time recently, only this is the same music used to promote the same industry for as long as I can remember. And for some reason the song makes me think of scary clowns selling ice cream and dragging kids away in the truck.
There must have been a horror movie or creepy TV episode I watched as a kid (or maybe a whole bunch of them) with some kind of scary clown in an ice cream van, but it wasn’t the ice cream van that brought those things to mind, I couldn’t even see where it was, it was the music.
Poor old Greensleeves has forever been tainted for me by its alignment with Mr Whippy (and some kind of childhood pop-culture-induced ice cream van trauma), and it got me thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of brand alignment and the impact this has on the associations people have with your brand (I know, such a weirdo, just enjoy the serenity why don’t you :P).
When you’re first starting to build your business, or in fact at any point in your business journey, one of the great ways to increase your reach and awareness is to align your brand with other, more established brands or businesses.
Ideally, it lends you credibility through your association with a better-known brand, it can allow you to tap into their existing audience to reach more people and it can help to build positive associations in the minds of customers/clients by aligning your brand with what they already know about the other brand.
It’s about adding value - to your brand, to the other brand through your offering and to both audiences.
Brand associations are those underlying values or emotional responses people have developed through interacting with your brand. But they aren’t only present when they’re in direct contact with you/the brand - they’re the lingering, lasting impression your brand leaves that stays with people afterwards.
And that’s exactly why it’s so important that any partnership is very carefully considered for its alignment with your brand values, your ideal customer and your purpose – because it will have a lasting impact on the associations of your brand people form and hold on to.
No matter how many people a brand partnership might expose you to it’s not of value if it’s communicating the wrong thing – eg creepy and annoying Mr Whippy music, rather than lovely old English folk song.
I’ll give you another example – back in my corporate life I had an in-house role with a growing Australian brand. They were all about being family-friendly, community-focused, accessible, approachable etc.
The brand was offered very, very, very cheap rates on some on-field advertising at a professional football game. Now the reason the rates were so low is that the home team for the game was in the middle of a very bad publicity run of off-field player scandal.
The rates were super low, it was a prime-time game so the reach was super high through the attendees and the broadcast, but by aligning with that club, what was it going to say about that brand?
It said that the brand condoned the behaviour of the team. It didn’t say ‘family-friendly’, ‘approachable’. All the negative press, all the negative commentary, all the negative associations that were front and centre in the minds’ of the audience would be tied to our brand through it’s advertising partnership.
The point is, where your brand is seen and the other brands it is seen in association with has an impact on how people perceive it, how they perceive YOU and whether they will feel your brand/products/offerings/services are ‘for them’ or not.
Ultimately you want any of your marketing activity to amplify how deeply you resonate with your ideal clients/audience, so choose wisely.
Be really clear on why you’re entering into that activity. And always, always come back to your overall purpose. Why are you here today doing what you do? And will this partnership serve that work?
It’s hard to see potential repercussions that may pop up down the line, so, just as you should look to your ‘why’, my guide has always been to look for the other brand’s ‘why’ as well.
Does their purpose, their ethos, their culture align with yours? What are they trying to build in the world and is that something that you would support without any kind of incentive?
I highly doubt that whoever wrote Greensleeves was around to see it pilfered for use by the ice cream van industry :P But it still serves as a cautionary tale – always consider what any partnership or alignment will say about your brand. Do it well and it can be the key to success. Do it poorly and it can be a very tangled mess to undo.
Have you been thinking about giving your brand a little boost by partnering with another? Get really clear on your own brand values and purpose and make sure the other brand aligns nicely with these. And make sure you’ve signed up for my newsletter, so you never miss out on these tips and tricks from the trenches!