By Warwick Cairns, head of strategy at branding agency, Brandhouse
If you’re in the market for involving your brand with Big Brother, you sort of already know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Just in case you don’t – just in case you’re a hermit, say, or a Trappist monk, and by some bizarre twist of fortune you suddenly find yourself entrusted with the task of marketing a national or international brand, I’ll tell you briefly what Big Brother is all about.
What it’s about is a group of attention-seeking thickos who get locked up in a house together for several weeks, where they endure hours of boredom, punctuated by various intrigues and the occasional humiliating task. The aim is to be the last person voted out.
It’s quite good telly, really, in it’s own way; but you have to be in the right mood for it, and there’s only a certain sort of brand that you’d ever want to associate with it, if you had any sense.
That sort of brand is what you might call a ‘guilty pleasure’ brand – your junk-food restaurants, your red-top tabloids, your sun-sea-and-shagging holiday companies: the sorts of things – like Big Brother – that you enjoy, if the truth be told, even though you know you really shouldn’t.
However, there’s been a bit of talk lately about Big Brother having reached the end of the line; having scraped the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.
But the sorts of people who say this probably aren’t the sorts of people who ‘get’ Big Brother anyway. The bottom of the barrel always was well and truly scraped, right from the start – that’s always been the whole point of it.
The producers had already scraped right through the bottom of the barrel and out the other side by the time they got Jade Goody on - the first time. By my reckoning they’d already tunnelled halfway to Australia by then.
Slightly more worrying for the brands associated with Big Brother is what happens when things go wrong – as was the case with the ‘Shilpa Shetty incident’. This was considered to be a very wrong thing indeed.
What happened was this: after days and days of ratings-boosting bitching and back-biting between Z-List Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, on the one hand, and a couple of British slappers (Jade Goody being one of them) on the other, the spat between them took on greater significance when Goody – who thinks East Anglia is a separate country – noticed that Shetty was Indian and started calling her Shilpa Poppadom.
A cry of ‘Racism!’ went up and all hell broke loose: questions were even asked about it in Parliament.
One wonders whether there would have been the same fuss if Shetty had been American and Goody had called her Shilpa Hamburger, or German and Goody had called her Shilpa Bratwurst – assuming she knew what a Bratwurst is, which is by no means certain - but that’s neither here nor there: what matters is the perception, and the perception was bad. The programme’s sponsors, Carphone Warehouse, weren’t happy at all.
In a funny sort of way, though, that whole incident made it safer for the kinds of brands who want to associate themselves with Big Brother. This is because the producers are now so paranoid about it ever happening again that at the first whiff of anything that might be considered even remotely ‘offensive’ housemates will find themselves out on their ear.
So associating yourself with Big Brother now is pretty much the same as it always has been. It’s not intelligent or innovative viewing, but you know that, anyway – or at least, you ought to. Associating yourself with it won’t work for every brand, but it will work for those with the right values.
If you don’t already know whether your brand has the right values to benefit from association with Big Brother, then my guess is that it doesn’t, and you’d do better to stay away.
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