Is social media really responsible for ‘new’ branding rules?

I recently heard that social media was responsible for the ‘new’ way we look at branding: Instead of locking the brand away in a vault, only to be touched by men in crisp suits, slicked hair and a fifth of whiskey in their bottom left desk drawer, it is now not only acceptable but recommended that companies encourage their audience to tinker a bit with the brand, in effect making it their own. In this manner, the extent of the audience’s brand affinity may be measured. After all, a brand isn’t merely what the company thinks it is, it’s what everyone else thinks it is.

While I can see many places where this is true (power hungry designers/webmasters circa 2000 seem to have disappeared), inwardly I find the importance placed on social media for this result laughable. Anyone who stumbled on fan fiction for Lord of the Rings in 2002 knows the writers were likely writing similar fiction about Dungeons and Dragons ten years before anyone heard of MySpace. Anyone who ever traded mixtapes knows that social media didn’t cause music sharing to happen—Napster and Spotify just made it easier. Anyone who went to a party at any point in the last 30 years where a favorite toy, hobby, or sports team was turned into the party’s theme—in a completely homemade manner, without the use of store bought party supplies—knows that social media was nowhere near this brand investment.

Actually, parties are an excellent place to see devotion to a brand. Take this third birthday party I recently did for my daughter based on her Ugly Doll, Ox (a blue Ox has been her woobie since she was 6 months old, and I have replaced his chewed off arms more times than I can count; we have two back up Oxen as well as a full size green Ox). Anyone who has thrown a themed party knows the planning can balloon out of control, and that there is a lot of experimenting to figure out how to make it look like the real X without actually being the real X. Sometimes a little bit of homemade-ness adds to the charm, sometimes it detracts; finding the right balance is key.

Obviously we wanted all of our guests to have a good time, but we focused our creative efforts on the three year olds by putting all decorations on their sight level, starting with Ox who welcomed them at the front door:

We continued the fun with wayfinding made of other Ugly Dolls, which started just inside the door and lead through the house to the two bathrooms and the party spaces.

We had hundreds of balloons and a stencil of Ox which everyone was encouraged to trace on their balloons of choice. Even the adults were giddy over them—it looked like a jellyfish hideout with all the strings hanging down.

And of course we had a ridiculous number of from-scratch home made cupcakes, slaved over by yours truly. Thanks to my husband’s sure hand for cutting out the Ox and Mr. Kasoogie cake toppers I’d “designed”.

We also made the birthday girl her own crown to wear while she blew out the candles:

One of my most inspired moments was the Pin-the-arm-on-the-Ox game. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over with the three year olds, but everyone took a turn or two and laughed at where the arms ended up.

As the party wound down, we handed out favors. We started with 15 bags but we were so busy with the party that we forgot to stage and shoot them all beforehand. Inside each of these bags was an Ugly Doll, a bag of buddy food (that’s what my daughter calls jelly belly jelly beans) and a small set of watercolors to paint their new buddy, just like my daughter paints Ox.

The kids were giddy, many of the adults said it was the best kid’s party they’d ever been to, and my daughter was thrilled.

Before you go off thinking that I posted this to prove that I’m some kind of super mom, I assure you that I did not and am not. I posted it to make the following point: I would never in a million years go to extremes like this for something like Polly Pockets or Barbie. It’s because this is a brand that resonates with me, my husband, and my daughter that I (and my husband) put this much time and effort into the planning and execution. We love the Ugly Doll brand!

And we didn’t need social-media-influenced-“new”-branding-rules to encourage us to monkey with the UD brand to make it our own!

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook