Brand Activation Lessons for Marketers


Launching a brand activation can be an exciting process — as marketers, we get to explore new and novel ways to reach our base and beyond. However, some marketers lose sight of who and where they are in the process, which can lead to some undesirable results.

The Trouble with Tributes

When Target opened a store in the New York City’s East Village, it thought it could tap into some punk rock cred by styling the store to look like CBGB’s, the iconic (and sadly defunct) music venue where iconic bands like The Talking Heads and Television honed their signature sounds.

As the New York Times reported, “…The company erected a facade in the style of CBGB, the rock club that hosted the rise of many seminal bands like the Ramones and Blondie but folded in 2006. Instead of ‘CBGB,’ the awning read ‘TRGT’ and ‘BANDS’ in bold red lettering.”

If the road to Richard Hell is paved with good intentions — Target found a shortcut. Media reports called the stunt “deplorable” and “tasteless.” How did Target miss its mark? It didn’t realize that evoking the landmark was appropriation — of, in this case, a vital local culture that’s been squeezed by gentrification — is patently offensive. How could Target be so tone deaf to the local context? In their zeal to fit in, they ended up mocking the very thing that the neighborhood cherished — its hallowed place in music history. Lesson learned: To evoke band parlance — play originals not covers.

Identity Crisis

This next example is the pop-up equivalent of borrowing your big sister’s ID and trying to get into a club when you were underage. Naturally, comic hijinks are sure to ensue, or in the case of this particular pop-up, results can be laughable.

A storefront in New York City alerted passersby to an upcoming “Apple” pop-up, in fact, as the Verge reported, “the event is a promotion from Stemilt Growers, an actual apple farm that’s showcasing its latest variety of apple. So, essentially, it’s a literal apple store” and not related to the maker of your iPhone.

This is a case of being too cheeky for one’s own good. Why activate a brand that isn’t your own? In this case, raising awareness turned into raising eyebrows at best and ire at worst. Lesson learned? Don’t lean on another brand’s goodwill — you do you.

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