Brands & Campaigns: Constructive Negatives

“A Phoenix Must Burn to Emerge”Janet Fitch

Anthropomorphism is the ultimate goal. As if, brands are not just acting like humans but are breathing creatures with emotions from the very beginning. If truth be told, it’s not about just humans anymore as it will make the concept very restricted, which I wanna talk about. With this, I refuse to accept that brand personality is a set of human characteristics entirely that are attributed to it & are perceived by humans. The world is bigger than reality for brands to imitate and improvise upon.

Today, where dragons from children’s books are brought to life, with Iron Man holding his forts in California and Sherlock is a living legend in Baker’s street are all crossing dimensions. It was about time for Green Lantern to be asked to return his ring. It’s a world where a drink can give you wiiiiings and a spray have the power to make angels fall with objects ‘thinking different‘ and ‘imagination at work‘ ‘for life’ etc. It’s a world full of hope. A hope that Dr. Strange made it alive from infinity war! Have you seen ‘Now You See Me 2’? This is what I call a good example of how chosen ones are recruited for a fantasy world in secret societies and intelligence agencies like the internet mystery of ‘Cicada 3301‘ and other enigmas of the deep web. Fiction is borrowing things from the human realm and the other side is also not shy from searching for truth in fairy tales. There is no difference between fiction & reality or at-least there will not be. The line will become so blurred that you would be needing a supervision of Hyuga clan to see it.

Now things must have started kicking-off in your mind. Am I that crazy??


Oh, don’t tell me you’ve never listed to annoyed requests of Spiderman backpack, a hulk lunch box or a Marvel’s T-shirt from your irking child.


Sorry, I forgot Batman. And some are crazy even for barbies.

I mean, Seriously!! A dollhouse!

It’s happening. Giving life or personality to brands have now become a norm. It will take a whole new level with further advancement in AI, and virtual & augmented reality. Brand personality also represents the persona of people running it even if they are lame hard-core anime fans and are suffering from schizophrenia. You can always see brands engaging in twitter fights & even over a billboard. And the winner is always a Magnus Carlsen of strategy.

We will discuss gruesome battles and some mind-blowing strategies that were employed to win customers’ heart. Your Heart! But first, let’s have a small Brand personality 101 class. Don’t worry, it’ll not be That boring.

Afterward, I promise, there will be BLOOD!

Brand Personality

I was thinking of borrowing Jennifer Aaker’s (a social psychologist) 5 dimensions.

aaker 5 dimensions

It’s good and, really helpful in providing a framework of understanding brand personality better and pinpointing how people would perceive it. It gives an analogy of a brand profile with human beings and hence comprehension of the same becomes easier. It describes the current status. But, what if you like multiple or all facets from above. So the real question is, how would you choose one from the clutter?

Do one thing, keep aside showing-off and let’s also do-away with caring about other’s perception of us. It will narrow down the list further and go on & think of a brand as if it is a human being who can be selfish or reliable. Someone who thinks of others as mere tools or it could be a philanthropist. You can think of it as an alien say Superman from Crypton – A Sexy, warm, cool, boring, daring, cheerful, tough, emotional, robotic, sophisticated, complacent, successful or hilarious are other words you can choose from and associate it with.


Now let’s observe Helen fisher’s (a Biological Anthropologist) research findings. She literally put people’s brain under a scanner. In order to answer a question asked by, “Why do you fall in love with one person and not the other?”, she let 12 million people from 40 countries answer a questionnaire. (And we going to apply such results to understand the science of choosing a brand from an untidy mess of look-alike.) After graphing the personality traits of 178,000 people (a subset of the survey), Fisher found a correlation between certain personality traits and the four brain systems (these are the only brain systems that can be linked with personality traits):

  • Explorers (Expressive of Dopamine & Norepinephrine systems) are curious, novelty seeking, spontaneous, creative and open-minded. They are willing to go with the flow, take risks and can be very theoretical. (Looking for new experiences)
  • Builders (Expressive of Serotonin systems) are conventional, orderly, concrete, respectful of the rules and loyal. Loves meticulous work and don’t want drama. (Love people who behave according to established standards and proper conduct)
  • Directors (Expressive of Testosterone systems) are analytical, tough-minded, decisive, focused and independent. Need you to get to the point. They think you are weak if you are too nice. (Enjoy competitive conversations)
  • Negotiators (Expressive of Estrogen & Oxytocin systems) are contextual thinkers, imaginative, intuitive, empathetic and nurturing. They seek big picture, harmony and have diplomatic intelligence. (Like to know people’s deepest feelings and emotions)

Bottom-line is “…Explorers are the high dopamine, high energy, curious, creative – want somebody like themselves” and similar is the case with ones with high Serotonin i.e. Builder. But when it comes to Directors and Negotiators – opposite attract. Watch the below Ted Talk Ms.Fisher and you will understand everything. You can watch the whole thing if you have nothing better to do (Warning: it could be boring) or you can just fast forward it to 18:25.

So, which brand did you chose? Was it an Explorer, Builder, Director or Negotiator?

Okay, Okay! I know, I’m done now.

But you get the idea of brand interactions and selections, right?

Can you love something so much that you would ignore it’s darker side? Are you a brand loyalist? No matter how many controversies broke out in the past, you are still sticking with the same thing. When it (the brand) realize its mistake and come out with bowing the head to apologize in front of everybody; you admire its honesty and your bond becomes stronger than ever.

Remember Coca-Cola!

What if along the way, you start liking someone else? My advice, don’t feel guilty about it. Be true to yourself & your feelings and say, “I was a Mac eater before but finally switched to the king” after experiencing this:-

(A 46 seconds, Burger King’s longest ad ever)

I’m more of a customized gourmet burger fan but it’s fun to watch how King rolled there. (I’ve shared links of some the best competitive ads in “As Promised” section in the end. Have FUN.)

Besides 5 Dimensions’ theory, Aaker’s another research was on the perception of happiness and meaning which talks about 2 kinds of happiness:-

  1. Peaceful and calm happiness
  2. Excited and energetic happiness.

In this article we are looking at some of the most intriguing and shocking campaigns and other marketing activities which went too far for your love; for your 2nd kind of happiness i.e. excitement which leads to engagement. These were mostly surrounded by controversies because of which some say they suffered a heavy loss in terms of money and brand image; at-least in the short run.

But aren’t such controversies and creativity make them even more interesting and consequently should generate more followers in the long-run? In that case, they are some daring explorers who would become immortal in people’s heart. Being safe is just boring. After-all elation lies in adventures and only a gutsy move can make your heart skip a beat.

Is any exposure a good exposure?

Consider this thought –

  1. “Our product is 100% safe” and “risk-free usage with a money back guarantee” are one of the gems of not only B2B.
  2. But also, being risky is noteworthy. It has its own benefits.

So, by this twisted logic can we say – it doesn’t whether it’s a safe bet or a riskier one. In the end, “Any Exposure Is a Good Exposure”?

I realize it’s hard to accept such a statement in its totality because history is filled with PR nightmares because of celeb stunts and other negligence. United Breaks GuitarsLook at the famous case study of one of the most successful customer service complaints in history named as – “United Breaks Guitars” by Dave Carroll (Case Study PDF). The frustration of pursuing an unsuccessful compensation claim from United Airlines for damaging his guitar (by Co’s baggage handlers) made him post two amusing music videos on Youtube about the incident. The first video got 5 million hits within 2 months. Not only this –  it got exposure in other platforms, in several interviews and was subjected to thousands of tweets, facebook comments and blogs. Time Magazine named it one of the top 10 Viral Videos of 2009. Right now it has over 18 million views and is one of the precious jewels of Youtube. According to UK daily mail, United lost $180 million because of this exposure. (Click here for this famous 5 min musical).

Although, if it was handled carefully, the whole story could have been very different. Look at these 14 examples compiled by Arielle of BuzzFeed of how brands carefully respond to negative comments and made comebacks.

And I’m looking for a possibility here that can give rise to a whole new strategy. Maybe a risky one, but one that can create history. There are instances out there where at first a general response would be, “It’s a horrible idea.” Yet somehow they can bewitch you. And hence providing a strong support to the above ideology.

Brand Element Name – Brand Name

SFrog's Pissome brand names seem to be fine attempts at suicide. I mean, who in the right mind would choose ‘Fat Bastard‘ as a name of a wine. Would you, on a nice date with your love like to have ‘Frog’s Piss‘ over a romantic dinner.

Would You!!

You can also try ‘Ball Buster’, ‘Big Ass Red’, ‘Cat’s Pee On a Gooseberry Bush’, ‘Old Fart & Old Tart’ and the special ‘Sparrow’s Shit’.

Even research says that negative words generate negative feelings & signal threat because of which an avoidance response is normally generated.

Then why Frog’s Piss!

Negative things have undesirable consequences on one’s well-being. Studies showed that as a result mind gives an automatic preference to it, in order to process it efficiently and to avoid any danger. It means that humans respond more to negative stimuli as compare to a positive one. Thus, negative words hold more attention, have better recognition & recall value, and are difficult to overlook.  Also –

“Compared to positive words, messages containing negative words produced more positive ratings when they were contained within a promotion-focused message…” – according to Brand Suicide? Memory and Linking of Negative Brand Names published on PLOS ONE.

And don’t forget the power of uniqueness that such a name would bring. But it’s a double-edged sword for sure.

New Coke Controversy: When a Marketing Blunder became a Master Stroke

Jack Trout (author of ‘Differentiate or Die’) said, “marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.” And I want to add, products do help in building that perception. It’s a  fact which has been proved by Coca-Cola’s new Coke controversy of 1985.

Thank You for allowing failure to be my rescue
of what would only get worse if allowed to last.
Thank You for the years that have brought peace
from the guilt and shame of that past.
Thank You for showing me purity from YOUR eyes,
as mine just could not see – Gail Brookshire

In 1970, ‘DRINK OF THE YOUTH’ (Pepsi) was pitted against ‘THE REAL THING’ (Coke) on blind taste tests or as they call it ‘The Pepsi Challenge’. It marked the advent of ‘Pepsi Generation’, with tactics like signing Michael Jackson and they are continuing to do it even now (signed Britney Spears and Robbie Williams). I love Coca-Cola but can’t go against Sir Jackson and Williams. Anyway, this was causing Coke losing its market share and the no.1 spot to the youth brand. Even a campaign appreciating Coke of being less sweet (starring Bill Cosby) didn’t work.

On 23rd April 1985, it introduced the’ New Coke’, scratching out the original one. This was followed by an emotional uproar by people who gave the verdict – “Coke Yes, Coksi No”. (Coksi -a common thought that Coke was trying to become sweeter like Pepsi). Finally, the brand had to take a U-turn and all of a sudden, history’s biggest marketing blunder became a masterstroke.

Aftermath is, the whole drama humanized the brand and it was able to connect with people on a deeper level. Public image was improved as compared to what it was before the new Coke controversy and sales sky-rocketed.

“Some critics will say Coca-Cola has made a marketing mistake and some cynics say that we planned that whole thing. The truth is we’re not that dumb and we’re not that smart” – Coca Cola

But today’s world is different. With the advancement in technology of recording and interpreting data, it’s possible to understand deeper market sentiments on a much larger scale and to run simulations of decision alternatives. Think of it like a game of chess.  Even a puny unnoticed pawn can bring a warlord back to life one the most strategic places imaginable – behind enemy lines.  And I can bet that super-marketing teams have that capability to carry out such risky secret missions.


Be Careful, It’s Risky – But Ballsy

But whether one substantiates above success with a theory or call it a hindsight bias, it’s true that fortune didn’t shine on other cases and, brands had to declare their several campaigns as failed attempts. Dove had a taste of BEAUTIFUL barrage, Pepsi appropriating BLM movement (unlike Heineken’s Worlds Apart campaign with similar issue-driven messages but avoiding vague representation of opposing views), BrewDog, Racist Nivea’s White is purity campaign and many others were the victims of taking it too far. Maybe because of being at a wrong place and at a wrong time but that’s what we call a blunder. These times one can’t be too vigilant. You have to consider each variable even though it’s easy to miss some. The exciting part is, coke theory proves that occasionally these mistakes are deliberate to shake a monotonous market and to say “I’m here too and I’m desperate to play!” To announce that “I’m different from before and from others”. OR maybe to simply F__k normality.

Did Pepsi recently apply the Coke 1985 strategy? On 24th May 2018, Pepsi outranked Coca-Cola for the first time in history in Effie awards. It was not even in the top 5 since 2011. I bet its 2017 campaign which forced Pepsi to its knees to apologize (because of mass outrage) actually did more benefit than harm.

“Create products that are riskier to adopt and if you can get over the hump, you’ll be rewarded with buzz” – Seth Godin

Dove Real Beauty CampaignDomino’s “WE STINK” campaign did it. (Yes, they actually said it stinks and that they listen to their customers. A turnaround campaign backed by some major changes to its recipes and menu. Many experts quoted from Coke’s failure of 1985 for making significant changes in its product but for Domino’s it was a success) So did the completely unrelated Uber’s Ice-Cream Stunt, controversial Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign (See “As Promised” section the end for its famous Sketches’ campaign video which has over 68 mil Youbute views) and Charmin with its tweet on toilet humor (which is against the brand guidelines). DollarShaveclub’s un-embarrassed self-deprecating viral ad video – “Our Blades are F***ing Great” was great but when it comes to the most daring campaign award, it’s impossible to beat EAT24’s story.

It advertised on porn sites for its food delivery service. Yes, it was ready to take risk of associating itself with negative words like porn, s_x, and lust. But WHY?! For better impressions and value for money. Yeahhhhh! Okay! But did it succeed? Psshh, please! It rocked with LONG HARD results. Its ads received 3 times more impressions at 10th of the cost of per thousand views and even complemented by a huge boost in not only first-time orders but repeated ones as well. The story is awesome and the case study is unique.

It seems major success factors behind most of these gutsy and potentially back-firing campaigns are timing & superbly out of the box thinking. The market is cluttered. You, who are being bombarded with messages from everywhere while suffering from ADHD, brands don’t have much choice but to give you a jolt of surprise and creativity. Taking risk is now a new sexy.

They say it’s okay to be as rude as you want. You can push boundaries or may even bring havoc on earth, as long as you don’t offend. And if it’s fun then people will surely come to play (engage).


As Promised

Trolling & Competitive Campaigns (Video links)

  1. Burger King Trolls Mcdonald’s and its Creepy Mascot – “Comcdonald failureme as a clown and eat like a King”.
  2. 6 Back-to-Back Coke Vs Pepsi Commercial (Pepsi won in each of them)
  3. BMW Vs Audi war
  4. Mercedes Vs Jaguar
  5. Microsoft Vs Google: Keep Calm While We Steal Your Data
  6. Apple Vs Microsoft Vs Google: Real Passion of Apple Haters

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

“You are more beautiful than you think” (3 min watch)

Cover Pic Credit Goes to Cdd20.



  1. If this of cicada have two paths? One path is the one that are mentioned in the video, posted by cicada themselve, and the other path, never revealed in the other puzzles, maybe the first end of the puzzle are a trophie for the ones that won, their ubication, maybe. What if the path we see are the path that the people follow seing other people or videos, a filter, and the path never seeing are because the ones that get that way are contacted personally, to get secured that they never gonna talk about that

    • Akshat

      My apologies for the late reply.

      I think 2 path theory is one of the many that were made and rejected by experts on the matter. In this case, I also believe in one path because the other wouldn’t make any sense if we look at the objective and the style. But yes, to maintain secrecy personal contact had to be made otherwise there would be not point and their are many ways to do that if you are this much creative. Although anything is possible.

      Similar approaches were also used for recruitment in secret intelligence agencies and for marketing, especially for HALO game.

      I think the Cicada Puzzle is over. During my research for this piece, I came across some conversations about the same.

      I was also intrigued by this case. Let me know if you find what happened after this.

  2. certainly like your website but you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to tell the reality then again I will definitely come back again

    • Akshat

      Thank you Eve for your feedback and please accept my apologies for the delay in writing back and of course for SPELLS!
      I know how frustrating this could be. Therefore, before hitting publish, each article goes through several revisions from different angles. But sometimes…

      Also, believe it or not, some mistakes were deliberate for an attempt to make readers go through certain emotions but maybe I’m not able to achieve the desired effect.

      Again, appreciate your feedback.

  3. “CICADA lifespan definition:
    “The many cicada species all have one thing in common. Their lifespan above ground is much shorter than their underground lives. Depending on the species, a cicada might emerge as often as annually or as infrequently as every 17 years, but they expire approximately five to six weeks later.””

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