“What?! Of course not! You’re out of your brand-loving mind! Go back to beneath whatever godforsaken marketing rock you crawled out from under!”
OK. I’m out of my mind.
In some minds, “subversive” might conjure an image of a Molotov-cocktail throwing revolutionary who meets his swarthy, mustachioed cohorts in dark basement cafés to plot revolution against the ruling party while smoking a thick, harsh, unfiltered cigarette with a hard-to-pronounce name like “Gauloises.”
And yes, that is a kind of subversive.
But let’s look at the core definition of the word. “Subversion” is about taking power from an established authority or institution.
That definition does not hinge on being able to meet in a smoky, dark basement or heaving a bottle of petrol stuffed with a flaming rag.
The important component is taking power.
And not necessarily absolute power. Some power is sufficient. And it’s arguable that branding is a form of subversion when the goal is to win customers from the competition. Taking away customers is a form of winning power.
One of our first clients was a general dentist who said, “We want to run some ads for implants!”
We said, “You could do that. But you’re competing against a branded national giant called Clear Choice. How about developing a brand that’s in direct competition?”
The resulting brand gave the dentist a clear and evocative profile as an implant specialist. In the first year, that brand took in close to a million bucks.
Could that near-million bucks have gone to Clear Choice?
Of course. But our client took that chunk of power. Subversive dentistry, at your service!
What about the sound of power down the drain?
Back in my radio days, we helped a plumber do some backward branding. The account rep and I reverse engineered branded advertising for the plumber. It took that local plumber to #2 in the market for top-of-mind awareness.
You can argue that this small-business brand was taking power from #1 plumber, an outfit called Roto-Rooter.
Subversive branding is helpful for small-business survival.
The small-business brand need take only a tiny fraction of the customer power that would go to the 600-pound gorilla.
How many stories have you heard about communities rallying against a proposed big-box chain store?
The big national brand wants to come to town and subvert power from established local business.
More than one Walmart has drained the power and authority from a nearby main-street commercial district.
The Home Depot brand has put more than one local hardware store out of business.
“You can do it, we can help!”
That’s a (now defunct) Home Depot tagline. It also has some grim meaning when couched against the act of ruining local businesses.
Local bookstores were crushed by subversives called Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble and Borders.
Later on, those three subversive giants were a subversive outfit called Amazon.
A big national brand can subvert an authoritative local business.
Then, fans of local businesses cry, “That’s not fair!” But on a clinical level, commerce is not about fairness. It’s about exchanging goods and services.
If a small business wants to exchange goods and services against a giant competitor, isn’t it necessary to take away even a modicum of power?
Small businesses need and deserve brand.
Be David. Take the power from Goliath and thrive.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.