Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.at a recent lunch, one of our clients related to us with awe the fact that Coca-Cola could be found...

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

at a recent lunch, one of our clients related to us with awe the fact that Coca-Cola could be found in every variety store in the world.

Delivered with envy and respect, the remark revealed our client’s belief in the dream of every brand-builder: to conquer the earth.

A moment later, the comment was washed to the back of this writer’s brain by a multi-sensory wave of hoisin sauce, wasabi mustard and lotus root riding on a slice of swordfish carpaccio.

Own priorities

The brain makes its own priorities, and taste buds usually come first.

But it doesn’t forget these little sound bytes; it simply finds an empty spot behind the hard drive and drops them in there for later use.

The moment of relevance and utility came after about a month.

While tucking my four-year-old daughter to bed one night, she demanded the obligatory bedtime story. When asked which one she would prefer, she didn’t come back with the usual specific title, but simply said, ‘A Disney story. Any Disney story.’

Out of the mouths of babes! Suddenly, that little sound byte from lunch filled the room like a neon genie, its eyebrow cocked and a sparkle glinting off its perfect Hollywood chops.

Who’s the master

But who was the master and who was the slave?

I instantly imagined having a conversation with the familiar spectre. It went like this:

‘What’ll it be?’ asked the apparition. ‘The Little Mermaid? Beauty and the Beast? Aladdin? Your princess awaits.’

‘Uh, er, am I your master?,’ I asked, dumbfounded.

‘No way, my feeble-minded little friend,’ chuckled the cocky sound byte. ‘My main man is the great Brandmaster, Disney.’

‘So what does that make me?’ I asked rather humbly.

‘You would be the slave, pal,’ replied the translucent blue giant.

‘And my daughter, my little princess, what about her?’ I desperately pleaded.

‘Well, heh, heh, she’s one of ours now, isn’t she?’ came the inevitable reply.

How did this happen? How does a four-year-old’s mind somehow slip out from beneath a parent’s watchful eye and become the property of an all-powerful brand?

One need look no further than one’s own home to find the answer. Roaming through the house, I found the following Disney-branded artefacts:

1. One stuffed toy of Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

2. Ten Disney storybooks

3. Four Disney coloring books

4. One The Lion King erasable sketchpad

5. Two The Little Mermaid, two Aladdin, one 101 Dalmations, and, two Beauty and the Beast audio cassettes

6. One Donald Duck cap

7. One 101 Dalmatians cap

8. One Mickey Mouse cap

9. One Toon Town cap

10. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin videocassettes

11. One helium-filled The Lion King balloon

Aside from that, there are detailed memories of a recent trip to Disneyland, along with several snaps of our four-year-old posing with life-sized facsimiles of everyone from Goofy to Jafar.

These are the reasons our little princess now has so much confidence in the Disney brand.

We have absent-mindedly flooded her little life with Disney icons, to the point where she no longer even needs to relate to specific imagery or individual characters. Just say ‘Disney’ and she’s happy.

Presumably, this is what our client would like for his own brands, and it is what we are constantly striving for in providing him with design that serves to build them.

Fully developed equity is achieved when the brand becomes a mantra, an involuntary utterance that emerges as naturally as breath from one’s lips.

As such, it begins to take on cultural, if not religious, significance.

Think about it: in a culture which is based on consumption, where is security to be found? It is to be found in consumer goods brands that have developed their equity to the point of intuitive familiarity.

And the brands that can be found anywhere, anytime begin to take on at least some of the attributes of a supreme being.

The frightening thing is how quickly the process of deification takes place.

When a four year-old demonstrates intuitive familiarity with a brand, you know the Brandmaster is truly all-powerful, and that you, by comparison, are powerless to resist.

But, don’t worry. Crack open a Diet Coke, just for the taste of it, and settle down on the La-Z-Boy for yet another viewing of Beauty and the Beast …

Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto.