Before I begin, I should preface that this post is neither a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-capitalist rant, nor is it a glowing product or brand endorsement. I've gone both ways on this blog, but this is neither. This is simply a meditation on the strange permutations of brand association and the weirdness of nostalgia.
When Edmonton International Airport (my workplace since the end of July) opened a Cookies by George outlet a couple of months ago, I was utterly delighted. Cookies By George, for those of you yet unfamiliar with it, is one of the world's few food outlet chains about which I will readily wax poetic. Its much vaunted made-from-scratch gourmet cookies are without fail the baked good equivalent of a Tangerine Dream album - complete and total taste bud candy, or, to put it more crassly, food porn. My only fear is that I will be busting out of my pants in short order working in such close proximity with it.
|In Soviet Russia, the cookie eats you!
The upshot of this is that since that time, everytime I've walked past a Cookies by George outlet, I've instantly been reminded of the 20th century's most murderous dictator. It's an unfortunate association, but I guess an inevitable one. Fortunately, for the sake of my own intellectual and moral clarity, the reverse does not seem to be the case and I seem to still be perfectly capable of reading a book or an essay on Stalin and being suitably repulsed by his reign of terror and carnage without starting to salivate with visions of milk chocolate chunk cookies in my head. Were this the case, I might consider therapy.
If any communications people from Cookies by George are reading this post, I don't really think this unfortunate product association is widespread. In fact I would be willing to bet that I'm the only person on earth who associates your company's products with Joseph Stalin. But it does make me wonder about the power of unintended brand associations. Much has been written about the potential hazards of juxtaposed images, such as the use of celebrity endorsements. This works very well if you're Rolex and you have Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in your corner, but less well when you have Bruce Willis endorsing Seagram's Golden Wine Coolers, as he did shortly before entering rehab in the late 1980s.
Sometimes brands come under siege when they get caught up in major news events, as happened to both Adidas and Dolce & Gabbana in 2009 when the former became associated with anti-government violence in Iran and the latter with the notorious Australian crime matriarch Judy Moran. And then there's the case of Japan Airlines in the aftermath of the horrific 1985 crash of JAL Flight 123, which I discuss in my March 12 post on the communications consequences of the 3.11 disaster. In this case, the disaster triggered the slow decline of one of Japan's most iconic corporate brands in spite of the fact that it was shown to be in no way responsible for the disaster. In fact, with the Boeing company's faulty repairs to the 747 in question and the Japanese government's botched rescue efforts, it was undoubtedly the least culpable stakeholder - and yet it bore the brunt of reputational damage.
|"Talk to the cookie 'cuz AHS ain't listening!"
In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy Cookies by George's fine cookies, even at the risk of being reminded of one of histories worst villains. I wonder, too, if anybody else has any personal stories of strange product associations along these lines. I'd love to hear about them.