Brands Can Get Type Cast Too

Paul FriederichsenJuly 11, 20174 min

Often we will read about a Hollywood star that will avoid a role in a sequel for fear of being type cast. Or a star that will struggle to find a “breakout” role simply because the perception of the star’s work doesn’t match with the star’s desired change.

Brands will have the same challenges. Many years ago, Rolling Stone magazine launched its iconic “Perception–Reality” campaign that intended to destroy the bad-boy rock and roll type cast image advertisers mistakenly had regarding its appeal and readership. As Rolling Stone understood at the time, its typecasting was hurting its ability to attract new advertisers; and so the campaign took on the dilemma head on in side by side comparisons of “perception” and “reality.”

It could be said that typecasting is really the result of a brand exercising sound brand discipline; so strong and so successful, in fact, that to alter, embellish or enhance the understanding of brand may be difficult. This can happen even in industries populated with “knowledgeable”insiders such as writers, editors, bloggers, or, as in the case of the Rolling Stone example, expert media strategists and buyers.

WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is contending with type casting … not with their wrestling stars, but with the brand itself. Ironically, in a business that relies on type casting good guys and villains for staged wrestling bouts to enthrall fans, the brand is attempting to shed the notion that it stands for more than “wrestling” but that it’s a powerful entertainment media vehicle for advertisers.

Of course, typecasting can be desirable, as in the case of “Mac vs. PC.” Mac relishes being type cast as the fresh, creative and friendly alternative to the “PC.” Or Subway’s type casting as the healthy fast food alternative to heavy, greasy fast food options. Or Gold’s Gym as the no nonsense strength training alternative to the glitzy, sophisticated LA Fitness locations.

There are two fundamentals that brand marketers must recognize with regard to this issue. Firstly, as consumers of brands in a world saturated with them, we consciously (and subconsciously) categorize them for easy mental reference. This “filing system” is formed by our earliest memory with the brand and is not easily altered. We are resistant to changing a perception that gets hardened like cement over time. Secondly, many reporters, editors, and bloggers are either over-worked or just lazy, and may not dig deeper about your brand when including it in their story.

For example, a very large and successful flooring company began making quality, but affordable products when it started out, but later began adding a wider range of designs, warranty levels and price points. In spite of a considerable amount of marketing efforts to introduce its new lines, it is still often type cast as that company that produces inexpensive flooring by the writers and editors in the industry. Typecasting is difficult to change, indeed.

In her book Impossible to Ignore. Creating memorable content to influence decisions Carmen Simon writes,“It is critical for us to help audiences keep in mind valuable information” to prevent “accidental forgetting.” As she observes, “We may forget what we experienced, but we won’t forget what we understood.” Properly understanding brands requires effort, of course, and that’s where marketing must step in.

If the typecasting is unwarranted or undesirable, there are three areas to consider in addressing this:

  1. Bold action. Just as a comedic actor would take on a dramatic role to alter audience and critical perceptions, so should brands take on their new role with strategic timing. Appreciating the resistance to change, the marketing may need to be suitably jarring to challenge the type casting and reposition the brand.
  2. Often brands become lax in telling their own story and then wonder why others are not following them. As in the case of WWE, the brand’s executives are taking their story directly to ad agencies and advertisers emphasizing that they are more and capable of more by means of tie-ins and promotions than the limited view media execs may have.
  3. Brands, just as the markets they do business in, must adapt to a constantly fluid and evolving space. Depending on the category, change can be either at a snail’s pace or almost daily. Brand marketers must carefully consider the pros and cons of such a move in order to eliminate the drag of typecasting can have on sales performance and growth.

Essentially, for brands to have the chance to break free from typecasting their actions must create new memories, based on an altered understanding of the brand. Communicated and received successfully old meanings can be pushed aside to make a new role for the brand.

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