Strong Brands should never let their Guards Down against Doppelgänger Image
Strong Brands should never let their Guards Down against Doppelgänger Image

   A brand drives public conversation irrespective of how positively or negatively it impacts its market. The effort has always been and will be to create a positive imagery in the minds of consumers through various marketing, branding strategies, and associations as unique and favourable as they get to be. Those having strong associations develop a favourable influence on consumer’s buying intention. However, there is an entire world of conversation surrounding the brand without its participation, or often, knowledge. These associations are created by stakeholders with mala fide intentions, and are directed to disrepute the brand on target and create a cultural backlash through the process.

This is called ‘doppelgänger brand image’ — a process by which a collection of disapproving images and stories about the company in question are circulated in popular culture by a fairly loosely organized network of anti-brand activists, bloggers, opinion leaders, and consumers. The word ‘doppelgänger’ stems from the German word ‘Doppel’ meaning ‘double’, and ‘ganger’ meaning ‘walker’. Thus, a doppelganger is a double walker, a destructive alter ego of  an individual, if you please.

Starbucks - a Classic Case

This American coffee MNC brought a spike in coffee consumption the world over and became an important cultural representation, thanks to a strong emotional connect with stakeholders cementing its position amongst the end-consumer. Soon, their pompous growth garnered unwanted attention and their benefit-driven, emotional branding strategies started backfiring. As corporate cafes began wiping Mom-&-Pop coffee shops out of business, Starbucks became the target of activists, largely because of its perception of a coffee leader crushing local competition. 

As an aggressive brand, Starbucks adopted strategies such as buying leases of the competition, opening multiple outlets in one geographical location, and internationally operating at loss. They were also involved in labour disputes, over-pricing their products, and even serving less coffee to reduce milk cost. Such decisions embroiled the brand in controversies, which damaged its reputation and strengthened the anti-Starbucks lobbyists. Once touted to be sophisticated, relaxing, comfortable, fresh, and exotic, Starbucks was forcefully associated with negative catchphrases such as superior, pretentious, confusing, and expensive!

The list of doppelgänger brand imagery also includes other behemoths such as Apple, Microsoft, and Nike. Nike was accused of running sweatshops. Apple received governmental and consumer backlash on deliberately slowing down older iPhones to sell new versions, and Microsoft was accused of unfair, monopolistic practices. This shows that consumers are no longer inactive participants in brand building. Rather, they are actively involved in its success or failure. Not only do they give constructive feedback to brand representatives, but also communicate among themselves and influence consumer-to-consumer marketing/branding (C2C).

These communities include the shared brand owners and can contribute to the development of a brand right from product design, usage, innovation, and even to influencing the mouthpiece/ spokesperson in brand advertising at large. Harley Davidson brand communities are great examples of shared brand ownership. However, they too run the risk of consumers, anti-brand activists, and other stakeholders putting a spanner in the brand wheel by circulating negative comments, reviews, memes, etc through blogs and social media platforms. Such instances of culture-jamming the brand communication happens every time the target audience notices that the brand essence is straying away from its promise. 

Subvertising is a Double-edged Sword
The web is a dangerous place, with people trying to sabotage brand equity through a barrage of culture-jamming, trolling, fake news, and opposition of the brand’s actual purpose with uncomplimentary stories led by activists, social media users, and opinion leaders. These disparaging activities, if ignored, can lead to creation of brand doppelgängers that damage reputation in the long run and impact brand equity adversely. It’s essentially the consumers’ perception about the brand, the ultimate differentiator, which is getting attacked by doppelgänger activities. From memes to parodies, ad-busters and subvertising, a brand doppelgänger can originate from anywhere and in any form. 

‘Troll Proof Branding in the Age of Doppelganger’, a book by Dr. Gaurav Sood, Professor at Amity School of Business, Amity University, analyses various forms of consumer backlash, anti-brand activism, hacktivism, and guides the reador with necessary solutions for culture jamming, fake news, trolling, and the overall malady of brand doppelganger imagery, offline and online. The Amazon bestseller provides case studies of top global brands and offers crucial insights to marketers, readers, and management students on how brand doppelganger imagery can be measured and tackled.

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