Who do you trust?

John Luther, Jimmy Perez, Tom Matthias, Kurt Wallander, John Barnaby, and Steve Arnott have more in common than their jobs.

Anybody who has heard me speak recently about brand will know of my basic position that BRAND = MEANING.

Brand isn't logo, or content, or marketing, or anything else. Brand = Meaning. It's a social collusion. 

Strong brands enjoy a large number of people who hold a distinct set of positive meanings about it. Weak or damaged brands either have too small a group of people sharing the meaning; or the set of meanings is too varied and vague. Negative brands have lots of people sharing a small set of negative meanings. 

Better therefore to be weak and positive (i.e. relatively unknown but good) than to be strong and negative (i.e. well know but bad). And of course all brands want to head for and remain in the strong & positive zone (lots of people, small set of positive meanings).

When demonstrating this truth I often talk about how it works in reverse: when popular culture uses a brand as a shorthand to express or signal a particular meaning. One of my favourite example comes from TV detectives.

We want our TV detectives to be trustworthy, and we want to rely on them to make us safe. We want to know that out there on the mean streets there are some people we can believe in.

So it's no accident in my view that John Luther, Jimmy Perez, Tom Matthias, Kurt Wallander, John Barnaby, and Steve Arnott have a key element in common apart from their jobs. 

All of these TV detectives drive the same car brand: VOLVO.

Why? Because the producers know that seeing a detective in a Volvo signals safety and trust. No matter how moody, or maverick, or volatile, or damaged, or conflicted these characters may be... we can ultimately believe that they are on the side of good. Because Volvo as a brand has a very small set of meanings, of which the primary one is SAFETY.

So no matter who else in Line of Duty might be corrupted or compromised, and no matter who ultimately turns out to be a villain, we at least know that it won't be Steve Arnott. Because he drives a Volvo. Unless of course the creator Jed Mercurio is just messing with our heads... by signalling safety through the Volvo and then betraying that trust. That's possible: but it only strengthens the case of the brand having that meaning in the first place.

How strong is your brand meaning? Could it ever conceivably signal a meaning as powerfully as Volvo? Something to aim for!!

Simon Middleton