The fascinating world of Cult Brands
In a world with thousands of “similar” brands, just a few stand out, generating deep connections, trust, and influencing people.
Juan Carlos Mallet
Have you thought about the legacy that you will leave behind? Or, have you lost trust in the future that you can build? If you are reading this, you are still on time to make a difference! We are living in unprecedented times. Today more than ever, we are experiencing a profound identity crisis. Few of us believe in institutions, and we question churches, governments, and even science, which are losing followers. We have even stopped believing in people, but, on the other hand, faith in some brands has grown stronger. Picture this: In a study carried out with generation Z throughout Latinamerica, I learned that young people trust Google more than their parents. Incredible, but true: we now have the wisest "brain" at our hand's reach; it's called Google. In a world with thousands of “similar” brands, a few stand out, generating deep connections, trust, and influencing people. We can even say that these brands make people feel like "belonging to something greater" or that they have "magical powers." These are known as "Cult Brands," and at Palmer, Cooper & Wallace, we have been passionate about them since our company was born to create brands that make a difference, brands that make you feel alive, so you want to spend the rest of your life with them. As you probably already noticed, we love movies because of the lessons we learn from them. In this case, we made a brief analysis of "Fight Club" (David Fincher, 1999), and we found a series of elements that can serve as a compass to create Cult Brands: 1. Charismatic leader. Tyler Durden is an extraordinary example of a cult leader: he has a tremendous personality, acts and speaks with great confidence, and is an expert on his subject. Additionally, he is eccentric and has a clearly defined style in how he dresses and communicates; he is consistent. Leaders like this are so influential that people start telling myths and legends about them. Durden is always ready to go and fight, especially to receive the most brutal punch, and he assumes it with pride and even pleasure because he knows the results that this generates. We find a similar story in the life of Gary Young, a man who grew up in the Idaho mountains without electricity and water. He suffered an accident that apparently, left him unable to walk forever. But knowing the power of plants, Young stopped eating and lived only on lemon water for more than 100 days until he could move again. Young Living, a leading brand of essential oils, was created. Young was always present at the conventions held each year, attended by millions of people who praised, applauded, and cried in his presence. When he died in 2018, the brand continued more active than ever; his legend passed into his legacy. 2. Extreme Ideology. A cult brand is never in the center, but it plays with opposite poles. "To build, you must destroy," said Tyler Durden. Getting punched to feel alive is not common, but Fight Club makes you feel like a survivor. A cult brand embraces its ideology and is willing to make great sacrifices to stay consistent: Colin Kaepernick kneeled while listening to the National Anthem before playing at NFL games in a statement against the treatment of black people in the United States. He transformed himself into an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement. His gesture became even more significant when he was fired from his team, the San Francisco 49ers because they considered that he was not following the game's rules. Nike, sharing these values, hired him to launch the campaign: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." This campaign had very extreme reactions: some Nike buyers against the activist burned their sneakers and posted the act on social media. Still, Nike embraced its principles and responded with a powerful statement: "We show you how to burn your sneakers safely because we care about you." The rest of the campaign increased Nike's sales. Experts worldwide commented on this advertising, which served as an example of a brand committed to its values. 3. Rules or principles. "The first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club. "And why then were more and more people coming to Fight Club? A cult brand invites those who share their beliefs to be part of something bigger. You may feel that this brand gives you "special powers" when you use it. A good friend told me that she witnessed a great example of this at the New York subway: A young man who could go completely unnoticed was sitting in a corner. A girl who looked like a model sat next to him at one stop, but she didn't even see him. At first glance, it seemed that they had nothing in common except that they were wearing Nike sneakers. He was the one who noticed, and this gave him the superpower to open a conversation with a woman who, otherwise, would be totally out of his league. The girl removed her headphones when her neighbor pointed at her shoes. She smiled, and they talked for a long time; They made a connection. Without Nike, this would not have been possible. 4. Icons and symbols. Fight Club members easily recognized each other by how they used their iconography consistently. In brands, the logo, the visual, auditory, and multisensory identities are what help us make an immediate connection: You don't have to read "Nike" if you see the swoosh on a sneaker, as you don't have to ask someone why they are wearing a cross, a Star of David, or a hijab covering their hair. These elements are not just a garment or an accessory; they symbolize your beliefs. In the same way, it is easy to recognize "Harley-Davidsons" among motorcyclists due to their machine's design and sound, but also because of their clothing and logo. 5. Rituals of belonging. Fight Club has a couple of clear examples of rituals: The first is the Club's rule number eight: "If this is your first night, you have to fight." The second was the methodology they used to accept recruits to be part of the fight against capitalism: they made them wait outside the house for hours to see if they had the need and dedication necessary to be part of the group. What happens when Apple launches a new phone? How many people stand in line waiting to be the first to have a device that, in a few days, will be more accessible? The same thing happens with Nike shoes. They launch special editions, and people get up at dawn to enter the lottery and wait to see if they win "the chance to purchase these shoes." If they do not win, they could buy them later, although sometimes paying up more than double. If they win, they will share it with the world, showing how special they are in achieving this feat. Now, none of this can be possible without: 0. Empathizing with the target. Most men go through a crisis when they are between 30 and 40 years old. They feel numbed and trapped in the office routine. They have no identity; they lose the feeling of strength, energy, and vitality. Tyler Durden understood this wound, so he helped them awaken their sense of masculinity; he made them feel alive again. Empathizing with the target is something that some sports' teams brands are doing successfully. For example, the "Club America" or the "RAIDERS," each one with their values, awaken passion, illusion, and a strong sense of belonging for their fans. 1. Having a brand "soul," "personality," and "body," which are capable of connecting and receiving the target's pain point. We'll talk about this point in an article later on. When you enter Fight Club, you lose your last name. When you enter a cult brand, you belong to a whole community. It implies loyalty, values, identity, beliefs, magic, exclusivity, team. What characteristics does your brand lack to be a legend? Are you an expert, and do you embrace your ideology? Do you make your particular audience feel like part of something bigger? Have you already thrown yourself into the ring to get punched? What do you expect to lose everything if it is to win everything? Do you have a challenge that you want to share with us?
Do you have a challenge that you want to share with us?
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