Superman vs Spider-Man: Giving Your Brand Super Powers

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Most brand identities fall into one of two groups: simple logotypes, like Superman\'s big red "S", and symbolic branding systems, like Spider-Man\'s spider and webbing. Which one has more power in the marketplace? Which one does your company have?

Text of Superman vs Spider-Man: Giving Your Brand Super Powers

  • 1. BrandingStrategies + Interactive n e w s l e t t e rPublished by Makovsky + CompanyVolume 24/Number 7 For more information on Makovsky + CompanysBranding + Interactive practice, please the power of specialized thinkingSupermanvs . Spider-man How to give your brand identity super powers. Lets say Superman and Spider-Man Supermans generic logotype. transformed agrarian societies into got mad at each other and decidedindustrial cultures, a brands primary to duke it out in the street. Who ID does not equal identity.purpose evolved from identifying would win? an objects owner to identifying an On the basis of their superpowers, Originally, brands were nothing objects manufacturer: This cup was its a no-brainer. Super strength, supermore than ID tags (the word brandmade by Cellini. This beer was made speed, super senses and, of course, is derived from the Old Norse brandr,by Lwenbru. the power of flight would easily defeat meaning to burn, referring to the Still, the object was just identifica- mere web slinging and wall climbing.practice of burning a crude symbol ontotion. As such, commercial brands But what if they decided to slug it a piece of property). The intent was were generally signified by a logotype, out in the marketplace? simply to indicate that a certain object the companys name or initials in a The answer is not so clear cut. Inbelonged to a certain person: This isproprietary typeface. fact, Spider-Mans superior brandingEinarrs cow. This is Thorvalds axe. Supermans famous red S is a system gives him a decided edge over But as the industrial revolutionclassic example. What does it mean?

2. Nothing, really. The colors are bright, and the pentagram wasnt until 1977 that the now-famous apple symbol was badge is kind of cool. But there are no cues to his powers or introduced. As former Apple executive Jean Louis Gasse his commitment to truth, justice and the American Way. Its described it: just an S for Superman.The brand has been identified. But it has no identity. An apple, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldnt dream of a more The power of symbols. appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy.By the middle of the 20th century, with the explosive growth of mass market culture, brand identities had to take Your brand as superhero. on an added responsibility: To give consumers an idea of the brand experience before they experienced it.So what kind of brand identity do you have? Are you aFaced with a crowd of seemingly interchangeable alter- Superman or a Spider-Man? A big red S or a spider-based natives, prospective customers and clients naturally gravitatebranding system? towards brands that provide the strongest symbolic cues. NotIf your company is a well-established market leader, with just typography, but iconography and colors that resonate onuniversal name recognition and high brand awareness, it may a physiological as well as psychological level. not matter. But if youre a start-up, a challenger, or anyone elseOf course, the logotype school still has many adherents, who needs to strengthen their presence in the marketplace, particularly with mature companies and categories that, likeheres some advice: Superman, date back to before the 1940s. But its the symbolic approach to branding that packs the strongest punch in 1. Lose your secret identity. It might make sense for todays marketplace.Superman to disguise himself as mild-mannered ClarkIn the world of superheroes, nobody does it better thanKent, but the most powerful brands offer strong visual Spider-Man. According to the story, Peter Parker was bitten bycues. Dont rely on your name or initials alone to convey a radioactive spider, and as a result, acquired the powers of a your brand message. spider. So his branding system includes that famous arachnid icon, webbing and other cues to his powers, origin and general 2. Focus on your true powers. What do you do for your approach to crime fighting. customers? What problems do you solve? The clearer you are about what you offer prospects, the clearer youll be The undisputed champion.about what you should look like. The growth of symbolic branding is not just a packaged3. Find your spider. Like Spider-Man, an evocative, goods phenomenon. There are just as many technology,provocative icon can become the foundation of your financial and professional services companies employing entire branding system. It wont be easy to find but symbolic branding to strengthen their positions:its well worth the effort. Cisco. Citibank. Lucent. Accenture. Thomson Reuters. And the undisputedAbove all, remember: Your brand identity is not just champion of brand symbolism, Apple. something pretty that you stick up at the top of your letter-Interesting factoid: The first Apple head. Its your companys superhero, guarding the organiza- logo was actually a picture of Isaaction, projecting your values and vision, and protecting against Newton sitting under an apple tree. Ityour competitors and other evil-doers.About Makovsky + Company Founded in 1979, Makovsky + Company ( is today one of the nations leading independent global public relations and investor relations consultancies. The firm attributes its success to its original vision: that the Power of Specialized Thinking is the best way to build reputation, sales and fair valuation for a client. Based in New York City, the firm has agency partners in more than 25 countries and in 37 U.S. cities through IPREX, the second largest worldwide public relations agency partnership, of which Makovsky is a founder. Makovsky is co-founder of Interraction, a consortium of experts working together to address the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.1 6 e a S T 3 4 T H S T r e e T, n e W Y O r K , n Y 1 0 0 1 6 Contact Timothy Kane, eVp T: 212.508.9600 F: 212.751.9710 Branding + interactiveW W W . m a K O V S K Y. C O m 212.508.9699Stevie Awards 2009 PR Agency of the Year tkane@makovsky.comHolmes Report 2009 Multispecialist Agency of the Year