How Brands Become Icons

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Branding is one of the key strategies often employed by businesses to capture the attention of consumers. Consequently, brands are all over and thus, they have become a familiar part of many people’s lives. But as Lury (2011, p. 150) points out, some brands present something more than a product or a service to the consumers in that they tap into a collective desire or anxiety of a society and as a result, they develop a unique status which leads to functional benefits to a business. According to Holt (2004, p. 3), these brands develop identity myths which address the created desires or anxieties. Further, they challenge people to adopt certain generally accepted ways of thinking and behavior.  Over time, these brands eventually become imbued in people’s consciousness and cultural practices. When this happens, all people both individually and collectively wish to associate with the identity of these brands and thus, they gain superiority over other related brands from other sellers. In other words, such a brand becomes cultural brand or an icon in a society. Hence the ‘how brands become icons’ concept which is well brought out in the theory of cultural branding by Douglas B. Holt refers to a thorough enquiry into the process in which a cultural brand is created (Holt 2004, p. 3). According to Holt (200, p. 4), it usually takes a lot of time and resources for a product to attain iconic status and this explains the fact that this status is enjoyed by relatively a few brands. In view of this, this discussion seeks to examine the process into which brands become icons. To enhance better understanding of the concept, this paper illustrates the aforementioned process by looking at how coke, a brand of Coca-Cola Company developed to become a long time cultural brand.

How a brand becomes an icon

To clearly understand how brands become icons, it will be vital to first gain an insight into the conceptual meaning of the term ‘brand’. Usually, the term brand is understood to refer to the subject or the markers related to the subject of sale (a product or a service). However, as Middleton (2010 p.3) notes, that the term brand isn’t just a good or service. Actually, it means much more than that. Also, it does not just denote the logo that is associated with a good or service. According to Middleton (2010 p.4), brand is about meaning. Precisely, brand has to do with everything that customers and prospective customers think, say, feel, read, hear, watch, imagine and hope about a product, a service or an organization. Further, Holt (2004, p. 3), who holds a similar view, argues that the term brand is formed when brand markers are filled with customer experiences. Formation of a brand is a process which involves advertisements, events or films which use a product or a service. In the end, people learn and talk about the product or service in conversations.

Sometimes, a story emerges which wins consensus in the understanding and ideas about a brand. As Holt (2004, p. 4) points out, it reaches a point to which people value the brand “as much for what they symbolize as for what they do.” In other words, at that point, the brand becomes embedded in a people’s culture and consciousness (Tilde et al 2009, p. 216). Notably, some brands which have attained this status such as coke, Budweiser and Nike are imbued with stories that customers “value for their identity value.” Often, the consumers find these stories valuable in constructing their own identities and thus, they use the associated brands as objects of self expression. In other words, these brands help consumers to express them selves and how they want to be especially because they embody ideas that these consumers admire. According to (Holt, p. 4, 2004), such brands eventually “become consensus expressions of particular values held dear by some members of the society.”

According to Holt (p. 4, 2004), studies indicate that consumer “desires and anxiety linked to the identity are widely shared across a wide fractional of a nation’s citizen.” The reason for similarity is because individuals construct their identities in response to the same historical changes that influence them collectively as a society. To attain this unique status, most of these brands are supported by the power of the media usually through advertisements. These brands tap into a collective desire or anxiety in a society. In particular, they develop identify myths that address the collective desires and anxieties within a society. As Cayla & Arnould  (2008, p. 93)  further explain, they create imaginary worlds which offer escape from every day life. As Holt puts it, “Identity myths are useful fabrications that stitch back together otherwise damaging tears in the cultural fabric of the nation. In their every day lives, people experience these tears as personal anxieties. Myths smooth over these tensions helping people create purpose in their lives and cement their desired identity in place when it is under stress.”  A good example is the famous Coca-Cola ad from 1971 “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” This ad voiced a desire to overcome deep divisions that existed in American society which were created by the Vietnam War Shmoop, (2010 p. 7). “Over time, consumers learn that the myth exist in the markers of a product or service such as, name, logo and design elements. Eventually, the brand becomes a symbol and part of the myth. When consumers use the product, they feel that they are experiencing a bit of the myth. They use the brand as a means of addressing their identity burdens addressed in the myth. They forge strong emotional connections with the brand. In other words, to such consumers, the product or service becomes a cultural brand. This is how a brand becomes an icon.

How coke developed to become an icon

Coke is a carbonated soft drink produced by Coca-Cola Company. This product was first introduced in United States in 1866 and later spread to more than 200 nations through a franchising model (Ohmann 1996, p. 8). Coca-Cola, (or Coke, as it is commonly referred to) has been an undisputed long time leader in the soft-drink industry in United States, so much that a consumer in a restaurant who wants a cola drink is programmed to ask for a Coke, in preference to other brands from the same industry. This explains why coke is considered to be an icon. According to Holt (200, p. 22), Coke developed extraordinary emotional attachments with its customers early from 1950s to 1980s.

Initially, coke used to be advertised as a brand that could cure hangovers, a stimulant for the brain for “brain workers” and as a nerve tonic Holt (200, p. 21). Though these tactics had significant impact on the sales of coke, they did not lift the brand to a status it was later to attain during and after the Second World War. According to Holt, during the war, 64 of Coca-Cola Company bottling plants used to supply more than five million bottles of coke to the military troops on the front line who used the brand a part of their cerebrations for their successful efforts. According to Holt (200, p. 22), “American troops would treat the scarce bottles of coke with religious zeal, drinking with a ritual confirmation of their national pride.” Generally, they perceived coke as a source of courage, heroism and a source of energy for American soldiers. As a part of the results, coke became associated with united state’s spirit of “can do” attitude. Remarkably, many consumers of coke during that period formed emotional bonds with the brand. Holt asserts that the formation of emotive relationship with the brand was spurred by identity myths that were associated with coke and which had been communicated to consumers through publicity and advertisements.

Immediately after the war, Coca-Cola followed a global trend of simplified art and culture while marketing its brand (Eldred, 2008, p. 21). Coke ads put in form of posters became very simple, understandable and accessible to people and were also very bright and appealing. In 1950s, Coca-Cola took to the media (radios and television) to continue spreading its brand imagery. To achieve target Coca-Cola commonly made use of ad campaigns and long-term slogans such as “It’s the Real Thing,” ‘Things go better with Coca-Cola’ and ‘Life Tastes Good’ A taste of America’. Like the American flag, coke became a symbol of what Americans were fighting to achieve after the war. When a service man took coke, they saw it as a drink which was linked with the happier days before the Second World War and as a perfect example of the society that Americans were trying to propagate and preserve. (Cox, 2008, p. 117)

According to Holt (2004, p. 23) after the war, there emerged myths which led to functional benefits to Coca-Cola.  : “a country willing to sacrifice its sons and daughters to save the world for democracy, a country with a unique industrious spirit able to outpace the Axis powers in building war machinery, and a country with the tenacious ingenuity to out-science the enemy in the race to the atomic age”. As they took coke, consumers could identify with collective feelings of national solidarity embraced by America after the war. As a result, consumers of coke in United States formed an emotional bond with the drink which continued through to 1980s. Holt further explains that the formation of bonds was basically due to do with identity myth that had been put forward in association with coke.

In addition, during the post war period, American government together with large companies sponsored introduction of new living space, between the crowded urban version and the rural small towns in America. Coca-Cola played a very significant part in the formation of this suburban life. According to Dahlén et al (2009, p. 269) this clearly coincided with the changes that Americans wanted. After the war, it was apparent that Americans generally expected stable employment opportunities to emerge brought about by a pumped up economy. Based on this huge leverage, Coca-Cola was able to build its brand and to become an indisputable leader of global .............

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