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Class 04 of CED we discussed the The Doppelgänger Brand. A doppelgänger is defined as an apparition or a double of a living person: a carbon copy of oneself. There is a proverb that’s says “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Copying someone (or a copy of someone) can be interpreted as an implicit way of paying them a compliment, thus, from that perspective, a doppelgänger could be viewed as a form of flattery, albeit, unintentional.

However, in the world of branding, the doppelgänger brand represents anything but admiration, in fact, it’s the exact opposite—it’s a complete condemnation of the brand and all that it represents. A doppelgänger brand image is a company logo that has been altered in a disparaging way usually highlighting a brand’s transgressions, lack of social or ethical responsibility, or general misconduct.

A study conducted in 2012 stated that a doppelgänger brand image can negatively impact the sales of a product (or service). In fact, a doppelgänger brand can be so toxic that it literally has the power to destroy a brand. Before we look at a few recent examples, it should be noted that some brands, through no fault of their own, are attacked by the doppelgänger brand effect due to unforeseen circumstances. Prime example: the ISIS chocolate company (need I say more), is from Belgium and quickly found itself in a horrible situation when the company, who had been around since 1923, decided to change their name from Italo Suisse to the name of one of their well-established popular chocolate brands only later to be stricken with the sickening situation of having the same name as an emerging terrorist organization (figure 1). The company is actually an ecological enterprise, creating organic chocolate, that is UTZ certified for sustainable agriculture and creating better opportunities for farmers, and deals in fair trade chocolate. Needless to say, the chocolatiers swiftly switched their name to the owners’ surname—Libeert (figure 2). While most cases are not this extreme, they are damaging nonetheless.

More common doppelgänger brands include United Airlines, McDonalds, and Starbucks. I however am not going to dis Starbucks because: (1) I do like their coffee (judge me all you want but I enjoyed my free $8 coffee beverage on my birthday—see class 02 CED blog post) and (2) I would make a phenomenal Starbucks Brand Manager (Howard Schultz are you reading this?!). United Airlines and McDonalds on the other hand…McDonalds does have good coffee, I’ll give them that, but I wouldn’t eat there—I prefer real food (figure 3). That brings me to United—let the rant begin! I’ll be perfectly honest; I have nothing nice to say about United—they make “Scare Canada” look good (a doppelgänger brand in development). I have never had a good customer experience with United. They are the reason I have airline anxiety. The only way in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from Canada is to fly United (a partner of Air Canada). A few years ago, I surprised my mom with a trip to Chicago for her “not 60th” birthday (I don’t think she would be very happy if I announced her age to the world on my blog regardless if there are only a handful of readers). Another unexpected surprise also came at the end of thrip when there happen to have been a fire scare at the airport and SURPRISE, it took United three days to get her back to Winnipeg. Any financial reimbursement? Taxi voucher? Even a cup of coffee? A resounding NO. Clearly they don't have a customer experience designer on staff. Then came the video seen around the world when United had to "re-accommodate" a passenger—we all know how that ended, ruining whatever reasonable reputation they had.

Image: courtesy of Zachary Jaydon‏ @ZacharyJaydon #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos

This United doppelgänger brand is based on the United logo that existed before the United-Continental airline-merger. The original logo was designed by the great Saul Bass (a prolific graphic designer and the creator of modern movie credits). The logo was nicknamed the "tulip". I looked up what the tulip symbolizes and Google gave me: royalty, enduring love between partners, and undying passionate love. Ironic right? Wait! Google did not disappoint and spitted out a fourth tulip symbol—forgotten or neglected love! There we go—fasten your seat-belts and prepare for take-off! I'll end with another paradoxical piece of United particulars, it’s tagline: “United, Fly the Friendly Skies”. It was conceived in 1965, used until 1996, and re-implemented in 2013. However, interestingly enough, it's no longer on their website. Coincidence? You decide.

(figure 1)

(figure 2)

(figure 3)

Sources: Markus Giesler: How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic Journal of Marketing, 76, November 2012, S. 55–68

Thompson, Craig J., Aric Rindfleisch, and Zeynep Arsel (2006), "Emotional Branding and the Strategic Value of the Döppelganger Brand Image" Journal of Marketing, 70 (January), 50-64

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