How brands get our attention
by Mary-Anne Webb AMAMI
Principal, Inspirit Marketing


In May  Coca Cola Great Britain announced a ₤20 million anti-obesity drive under the banner ‘Coca Cola Zero Park Lives’. They’re encouraging physical activity via free organised park based activities. Immediately I had a mental image of the participants training with sandbags filled with the same amount of sugar that Coke uses in its products. Predictably this campaign caused a stir amongst health charities as they refute that an organisation that sells high sugar content products can support physical activity initiatives.

It’s true that the anti-obesity drive is at odds with many Coke products. They’re not the only company to promote incongruent activities. McDonald’s is another culprit. No one would argue against the wonderful work McDonald’s does via Ronald McDonald House Charities. However, their involvement in kids sport under the pretext of “improving the health and wellbeing of Australian children” through contributions to sporting organisations makes people uncomfortable.

Last I knew fast food and sport are not a logical pairing. Well that’s exactly what a report by the Centre for Behavioural Research at Cancer Council Victoria and the Obesity Policy Coalition showed - 7 out of 10 people dislike the connection between fast food and sponsorship of children’s sport. When the community is against the association it doesn’t do your brand any favours. It promotes distrust of your brand, even if it’s genuinely ‘giving back’. A lack of trust doesn’t build the coins in your brand’s bank. If anything, it makes the customer relationship more tenuous. Brands certainly want their customers to feel emotional about them and moved to action, but in a positive way!

The case for incongruence is when used as an advertising technique to help brands stand out. Studies have shown incongruence can assist a brand to get attention and achieve better brand recall. However I don’t think the people at Coke were playing that angle with their fitness initiative. Quite the opposite, they were aligning themselves with the market’s changing taste and increased health awareness.

The impact is really two-fold. First it’s one of brand trust. We’re more cynical than ever and scrutinise all attempts to woo us. We demand that our brands work harder to prove themselves. Secondly, it’s also an issue of positioning. If you’re positioned in the minds of your customer as on the left, and then you undertake a sponsorship opportunity to align yourself with the right, you can’t help people wondering WTF? You were so successful at your left positioning that any attempt to change to the polar opposite is met with derision. It’s just like the dim view we take when politicians jump from party to party – where’s the allegiance to the cause? What cause? What allegiance? It’s hard to trust brands that exhibit low integrity. So we don’t. We switch. Loyalty lost.

So although there’s a place for incongruent advertising, we’re less excited about our brands behaving in an incongruent fashion. In Coke’s case, although the fitness drive might well fit the Coca Cola Zero product, it doesn’t fit with the wider company’s products. The customer doesn’t necessarily isolate one product from another if it’s under the same brand umbrella. It pays to give your customers some credit before pretending to be something that you’re not.

Mary-Anne Webb biography
Mary-Anne heads Inspirit Marketing, a marketing consultancy focused on brand, marketing and communications for service industry businesses. Mary-Anne is passionate about connecting great design and great copy to build your brand, improve your customer relationships and strengthen your bottom line.

Inspirit Marketing offers insight and hands-on project implementation to ensure your brand and marketing activity results in the action you need from your end customer.

M: 0421 610 844