Written by Kristen Livingston
What does “Arab Spring” have in common with “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car Insurance”? Or “Twitter Revolution” and “American Autumn” with “I’m Lovin’ It” and “ Think Different?”
The simple answer is, a brand.
A brand can be defined as
a mixture of attributes, tangible and intangible, symbolised in a trademark, which, if managed properly, creates value and influence. ‘Value’ has different interpretations: from a marketing or consumer perspective it is ‘the promise and delivery of an experience’; from a business perspective it is ‘the security of future earnings’; from a legal perspective it is ‘a separable piece of intellectual property.’ Brands offer customers a means to choose and enable recognition within cluttered markets.
Essentially, it’s what people associate— thoughts, feelings, values—with a brand. A powerful brand will resonate with a consumer and create an emotional connection rooted in experience and communication. What makes a brand valuable is its equity- the sum of those distinguishing features that inspire consumer loyalty, commitment and demand.
Geico, McDonald’s and Apple leverage the power of positive brand equity to influence consumer-purchasing decisions, from buying a service like car insurance, or products such as Big Macs and iPhones.
Acting as a shortcut in the decision-making process, the power of a brand is not something that can be expressed solely in economic terms. While effective brand management unlocks the power of a brand in terms of its tangible assets, more importantly for the purpose at hand, it also unlocks its intangible assets—the emotional content of a brand that has the ability to “inspire loyalty beyond reason.” Through communication and people skills, these intangibles can be managed.
While McDonald’s has certainly seen its fair share of criticism, its golden arches, Big Mac’s and Happy Meals have continued to resonate with costumers all over the world. Apple Inc. has positioned its brand as a complete lifestyle— “selling dreams, not products.” As for Geico…let’s be honest, who can forget that gecko with the English accent.
Both of these brands elicit strong responses from consumers, developing a deep emotional connection. For those brand-loyal individuals, there really isn’t a replacement out there for a Big Mac or an iPhone. When leveraged correctly, the intangible assets of a brand generate a dedicated consumer following that can increase sales and support.
Branding A Revolution
What exactly then does the “Arab Spring” have in common with a Big Mac?
The Arab Spring ‘brand’ appears to have taken cues from the private sector in a similar fashion to McDonald’s and Apple. What can be characterized as a wave of uprisings and demonstrations spreading across North Africa and the Middle East, the Arab Spring movement has evolved into a distinct brand of social and political revolution, representative of a particular time, geographical location and people. Its brand values reflect the reaction of citizens in the region in response to a plethora of social, economic and political ills: censorship, widespread violence, corruption and human rights abuses just to name a few.
From Tunisia and Egypt to Libya, the branding of these political revolutions under the Arab Spring name could be seen as a concerted effort to garner support and raise awareness for their revolutionary cause. It is a brand that has become particularly adept in utilizing social media networks and leveraging the power of other related news outlets. The power of the brand is strong, albeit different from product brands. Instead of being shaped by a company or brand manager, it is shaped by wider (consumer) audiences and the media.
Social media is increasingly being used as a marketing tool to arouse and enhance this brand awareness. Twitter, Facebook and other similar networked communities allow access to millions of people in a relatively inexpensive and efficient manner. As a form of word-of-mouth or viral communication, the power of social media is being harnessed by the Arab Spring to gain widespread support, credibility and act as a uniting force for action.
As marketing consultant Mark Schaefer states “Social media can be used to build and ignite a brand — even when the product is a political revolution! In fact, marketing has played an extremely important role in the shifting Arab political landscape”. Through Facebook, citizens in countries like Tunisia and Egypt began to share best practices and even “brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades” (e.g. the April 6 Movement Facebook page and Twitter). This tool has provided the movement with a platform for both internal organization and information dissemination to outsiders.
Adding another layer to this informational role, media and news outlets are also peddling the “default” term that has come to brand the entirety of political uprisings particular to recent demonstrations across the Middle East. “Al-Jazeera, a news channel with an agenda, added drama and emotion to the brand by broadcasting heroic stories and swelling theme songs. The revolution became an ongoing music video.”
The value of branding the Arab Spring is that it has given a banner that citizens can unite under, and a discourse through which people can speak of an inspiring, collective effort to take back their countries and freedom. The Arab Spring carries incredibly powerful images and moving stories of triumph, courage and resolve on behalf of those taking part.
Even the newly dubbed “American Autumn,” describing the occupy Wall Street movement, is attempting to build upon the digital organization and general reform-seeking trend of the Arab Spring. As a recent Forbes article entitled “Does Occupy Wall Street Need a Better Slogan” shows, political demonstrations are looking toward established principles of branding.
Whether you value the role of social media in overthrowing a regime, or are more skeptical like Malcolm Gladwell believing “the revolution will not be tweeted,” the point is that the Arab Spring has become a brand in and of itself. Establishing a strong emotional connection, leveraging the connecting power of Facebook and the agenda-setting ability of the media, the branding of these recent political revolutions under the acting name of the Arab Spring establishes a beacon of hope and reform for others to follow- its success rooted in its ability to find widespread resonance in people across the world.
However, one question does remain and that is how the Arab Spring brand will fare in the future.
Taking heed to nation branding expert Simon Anholt, he points out the detrimental impact that a continental brand or regional image effect can have. A case in point is the image painted of “Brand Africa.” Brand Africa, with its simple message of ongoing catastrophe, is promoted by aid agencies, international organisations, donor governments and aid celebrities like Bob Geldof and Bono … not as 53 countries in various stages of development and struggle for independent existence and identity, but as a uniform, hopeless basket-case.” As much as it has helped to garner international support, forming both emotional and monetary elements, it has largely obscured the 53 individual countries from view
The issue with branding a political revolution like the Arab Spring is what it will mean for these individual nations as they begin the process of government reconstruction. “There has been a tendency to reduce the current political dynamics to a singular process that fails to recognize the different characteristics of the countries in which calls for change have occurred.”
The Arab Spring brand takes root in an assumption that these revolutions are all tied together as “something uniquely Arab.” While they might find common ground in best practices for utilizing social media or the media to garner attention and support, that does not mean they are seeking the same objectives or aims. We must be conscious of the fact that the countries of the Arab Spring movement have different histories, demographics, obstacles and goals. They are not likely to follow the same path, nor are they guaranteed to be successful in creating more just or democratic societies.
The challenges of bringing substance to these revolutionary brands are immense. Rebuilding governments and institutions will be hard. Meeting the emotional needs of people in these movements – priceless. For everything else after—there’s MasterCard.