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July 31, 2013

Brand equity and Brand loyalty - Examples of Marlboro and Harley Davidson

This blog entry is about a brand  that transformed the idea of smoking and of Machismo. Yes I am talking about Marlboro the ultimate advertising dream created by Leo Burnett. The image of the ruggedly handsome cowboy with chiseled features and the rough and ready looks went a long way in creating the ultimate male icon. The image of the cowboy lighting the cigarette with a big block of wood I am sure would have launched many a youngster into the habit of lifetime smoking.

Readers would be astonished to know that Marlboro was originally a cigarette that was created for the women. The dead give away - the red tip filter. The red tip filter was to protect the women smokers who otherwise would have lost the redness of the lipstick had the filter been white. That is what the advertisers can conjure. They can create dreams and built their castles on the sale of dreams. 

One brash American had gone to the headquarters of Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro and demanded that he be allowed to see the Chairman of the company. To his enormous surprise he was allowed to meet the chairman. 

The brash American says with out battling an eye lid  “I want to buy Philip Morris, what is the cost?"

The Chairman of Philip Morris was in his elements. He wanted to humor this brash American (so what if he is a upstart and acting silly) . He smiled and said "Well we could strike a deal at 5 Billion US dollars"

The brash American was taken back by the figure. He said demurely "That a bit steep, what if I only want the brand name of Marlboro?"

"oh only the brand name, Marlboro! Well sir you can have it for 10 billion US dollars",  

Needless to say this answer bowled the brash American and he was speechless.

The lesson from the anecdote – brand equity. A company is not the buildings, the infra structure, the people and the products. It is about the image the company occupies in the mind of the customers and what is its perceived value. The higher the perceived value the higher the brand equity. Indians have understood this concept very well. The shopkeeper selling his shop to the new owner demands "Goodwill” Goodwill being the brand equity of the shop. 

Similarly the customers of Harley Davidson are legendary for their fierce loyalty to the brand Harley. We all have heard of many examples of their fierce loyalty transcending into their daily life. Harley users dress differently and are a law to themselves. They have their own communities, clubs, rules, regulations and rituals. They wear leather clothes and are heavily muscled and sport tattoos. 

A shop floor in charge admonished his subordinate (incidentally a Harley user)

“Look at you, your dress is awful. If you don’t dress properly I am afraid I will have to fire you”

The response from the Harley user? Instead of changing himself he changed the job. This is the ultimate customer loyalty. Where the person and the brand have merged. They have become one. An ultimate dream for any marketer! 

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