Motivating Millions

Love-hate relationships

The other day I read a branding article and listened to a film review that shared an interesting theme…


The first was an article by Chris West in Creative Review that focused on Farrow and Ball’s naming strategy. The second was Robbie Collin’s review of Ben Wheatley’s recent film High Rise. The shared theme was that both the film and the product names provoked extreme reactions: people either loved them or hated them, with little in between.

Robbie argued that this deeply divided reaction from filmgoers and critics is often an indication that a film is truly great. So, does the same hold for brands? F&B’s eccentric paint names certainly provoke laughter and derision from some and passionate loyalty from others. Is that a sign that a divisive brand can equate to a great brand? And if so, why?

It’s only paint!

Perhaps it’s surprising that anyone could get genuinely worked up about the name of a paint, yet F&B lovers seem to truly believe the colours are different, and that the names reflect the paints’ unique, eccentric, earthy qualities. The haters look at the names and think they’re ridiculous and middle-class, and an indication that the products are overpriced.

Another equally divisive brand that springs to mind is Apple. Believers completely buy in to the benefits of complete integration of operating system, software, hardware and ‘lifestyle’. Naysayers consider Apple’s ‘walled garden’ arrogant, pretentious and protectionist. The power of this reaction is easier to understand with Apple, after all their products are ubiquitous in the modern world, used by millions of people pretty much every minute of every day (full disclosure: I like Apple, but some of their more evangelistic followers can get a touch annoying).

Divide and conquer?

What might be the common ingredients of a powerfully divisive brand, film or product? Maybe it’s a combination of a strong central idea, belief or vision communicated well and with conviction. This demonstrates that somebody cares, it taps into personal belief systems and establishes an emotional connection with the idea. And this is what people are more likely to respond to, either positively or negatively.

If you’re a ‘lover’ you obviously like the idea or the vision, have obviously taken the time to understand, and you might have a common belief system and therefore have built up an emotional connection. The ‘haters’ may well have also taken the time to listen and understand, but they disagree, it doesn’t fit into their belief system and therefore they do not share that positive emotional resonance.

Other factors, such as the opinions of others, personal prejudices or perceived social status can all have a strong impact on whether we love or hate something. And of course some people are simply attracted to the new, the different, the quirky, while others are more comfortable with the routine, the safe, the familiar.

Make me care

I guess I’m coming round to the conclusion that ‘yes, divisive brands, like divisive films, can be a signifier of greatness’. Of course there’s loads of highly successful brands (and films) that aren’t divisive, that don’t fire the passions (for good or ill).

Maybe we could ascribe their lack of discord to some decent marketing, memorable messaging or strong product or packaging design? But I wonder if it’s simply because they don’t stand for anything that will deeply resonate with people, that they just don’t have what it takes to inspire a proper emotional connection, to make people care.

Which makes me wonder if these brands, businesses and products will enjoy the longevity of those that seem to go out of their way to forge a love-hate relationship with us.


Ian Birkett

Creative Director

Corporate Culture / How on Earth

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