Creating Brands Vs. Phenomena

Coke is a brand. Justin Bieber is a phenomenon. Nike is a brand. Mystery Guitar Man is a phenomenon. Do you see a difference? It is a pretty big one. A brand is built deliberately over several years and a huge amount of thought and money is invested in every single aspect of its creation. From the brand name to the way it presents itself, there is a calculated sum of efforts and media that go towards building a brand in the minds of its potential customers.

You can throw this reasoning back at me and say that Windows is a brand. Apple is a phenomenon. Right. The same rules apply. Apple is the only phenomenon that has had a mixture of these two. So what’s the difference?

Coke was invented in 1886 by John Pemberton, but world domination would not happen until almost 50 years later. Even Nike was a relatively slow burn, taking almost a couple of decades to grow into the powerhouse it is today. Justin Bieber won second place in an online competition and uploaded the video to YouTube to share it with friends and family who couldn’t attend. It went on to attract millions of viewers who then turned Justin’s act into a phenomenon and made him a global star even before he was 14. Joe Penna is Mystery Guitar Man. Having uploaded videos on YouTube from 2006, he now gets over 80 million views on his channel. In less than 4 years he went from becoming a medical student to the music icon.

Phenomena result from lucky hits that strike home into people’s tastes and desires. They can’t be created by deliberation because it is impossible to predict how they will play out. YouTube does not have a ‘least watched’ ranking but 95% of the videos would figure there – the pile-up of the wannabe Justins’ and Mystery Guitar Men. The millions of hopefuls who never make it past their adoring families and friends – with videos stuck in views below 50. It’s not that they haven’t made the effort. In fact, you will find lots of well-produced duds that go nowhere. A classic “fail’ moment was Jennifer Chapton who labelled herself ‘The Hotness’ but was colder than last year’s soup

Brands, on the other hand, are products of professional communication and design. They need to be built and nurtured carefully because they are inanimate – with emotional anchors built by communication. Apple’s iconic ad appeared in 1984 – with the launch of the iMac. But then the brand, which acquired cult status lagged Microsoft Windows in terms of turnover all through the 90s and until the launch of the iPod in 2001, Apple played a poor second fiddle in terms of market share to Windows. But then Apple redefined the music, phone and the pc markets in a series of inspired products that helped it attain the status of a phenomenon.

The fundamental change was the internet. It democratised creation and distribution of music, apps and software. And that’s what helps the ‘discovery’ of a Bieber. If movie and music making wasn’t cheap, there’s no chance that anyone out there could have had a stab at stardom. And phenomena built on fickle taste, have a much harder job sustaining them.