Brands Explore the Darker, More Uncomfortable Side of their Identity

Brands Explore the Darker, More Uncomfortable Side of their Identity

May 9, 2016

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Brands are starting to explore the darker, more uncomfortable side of their personalities in order to be more distinctive and believable to consumers with their labels and packaging.

Over the last 35 years, the branding world has undergone a revolution. The once false, perma-smile perfection of beautiful people beaming at us from a fabricated place where the sun always shines and everyone is happy has been trumped by a darker, realistic, if more uncomfortable, truth. This truth is manifested in all corners of our culture – from the products we use to the docudramas we watch.

Brands are now toying with and exploring the darker side of their identity in order to be more distinctive, relevant and believable. Traditional notions of beauty have been subverted, imperfections are being celebrated, the taboo is becoming permissible. What was once deemed ugly, undesirable and unacceptable is now being used as a means of unlocking emotion and empathy in a way that consumers may truly relate.

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From the household goods aisle to store cupboards essentials, Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi is an exemplar of our often unspoken love/hate relationship with that other woman we inherited as family when we married our beloved. While Korean food is becoming increasingly popular, kimchi is still a befuddling food entity to mainstream America. As part of the process of popularizing the pickle and making it more accessible to the masses, the brand named its product after what many a TV sitcom and stand-up would call ‘your worst nightmare’ – your mother-in-law. Yes she’s annoying, tactless and blunt, and yes she knows exactly what to say to get your back up, but there’s no denying that she makes damn fine food. And it’s this very essence that manifests in the brand identity and on the final product pack design of Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi – bold black typography on a white background gives a brutal, unfiltered, say-it-how-it-is simplicity, just like your mother-in-law when she shows disapproval of your style of dress.

These are just two of many examples of brands which ‘embrace the shadows’, but the consensus is this: controversial and risqué campaigns resonate, live on and, by virtue of their controversy, almost achieve iconic status. While this contrary approach is mired by risks that threaten to damage a brand’s credibility, achieving a delicate balance of ‘wrong’ can be an effective way of driving engagement that repudiates ideals and perfections and speaks to consumers on a level that’s much more about real life. In this process of embracing the dark side, brands must ‘flip’ the unexpected.

 

Written by Ed Silk

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