Branding Lessons in The Hunger Games
What is branding? It is the promise and consistent delivery of an experience at every point that an organization touches its stakeholders. Successful branding makes it possible for a company to distinguish itself among competitors. It’s the identity the company assumes and what the consumer associates with the company when they see its name or logo. It’s what small business expert Jon Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing summarizes as, “Branding is the art of becoming knowable, likeable and trustable.”
Mason is a full service public relations and branding agency, so we always have branding on the mind. It was clear the huge role that public relations played in the storyline when I read The Hunger Games. Now with the movie making 214.3 million globally in its opening weekend, I am writing about how The Hunger Games are a perfect example of how branding can benefit your business.
First a quick summary: The Hunger Games is story of a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem, which is split into 12 districts all ruled by the Capitol. A failed rebellion caused the Capitol to take serious measures to assure that it held absolute power. To reinforce this, the Capitol created the Hunger Games, an annual event where through a lottery process a boy and girl age 12 to 18 are selected from each district to compete in a televised battle in which there can only be one survivor.
The story is about Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, 16 year olds from District 12. Despite the violent nature of the games, everything is incredibly public and glamorous. There were televised interviews and chariot rides to display beautiful costumes. The more likable the tributes were, the better their chance to get “sponsors” to send them gifts to help in the arena. This is where branding comes in.
BizHelp24, a website with articles on business financing help and information, has a great article about branding. It had a list of how branding benefits a business so I will use The Hunger Games as a way to help understand branding.
1. Recognition and Loyalty -- Branding is powerful and could be the difference between getting a customer or losing a customer to competition. Branding makes it much easier for customers to remember a business. And, if they associate good things with it, they will be more likely to choose the branded product over its competition.
The first branding lesson Katniss learns is that the key to survival is being liked. Her team did this by branding her and Peeta two ways: as strong contenders and star-crossed lovers. Her stylist, Cinna, took a risk by taking a new approach to dressing the pair. Instead of sticking to the theme of coal, since it represented their mining town, he dressed the two up as fire. As they rode in their chariot, their capes burned a beautiful synthetic fire which no one could take their eyes off of. This automatically branded Katniss as “the girl on fire.” This shows the importance of branding yourself in a unique way and taking risks.
During the interview process, Peeta told all of Panem that he was in love with Katniss, which instantly gave her fame and desirability, making the two of them strong contenders in the games.
2. Image of Size -- A strong brand projects an image of a large and established business. Consumers associate branding with having the money to spend on advertising and marketing, as well as development of new products. Thus giving people reassurance that the company will be around for years.
Although Katniss and Peeta were the underdogs in strength in the games their ability to brand themselves gave them the advantage. Their branding created the perception that they had a better chance of winning than they actually did, given that many of the tributes were physically stronger than them.
3. Image of Quality -- A strong brand image projects the feeling of quality. If a consumer has to choose between two products and one is successfully branded, they will be more likely to associate quality with the branded product, and often make a purchase off that assumption. Yet, consistency is important—if the product actually lacks quality or the company’s service falls short of the brand promise, the brand marketing efforts will backfire.
The Hunger Games had 24 competitors so anyone who was able to distinguish themselves and gain favor with the audience had an advantage. Sponsors could send the contestants they liked expensive gifts, such as medicine, food or water. Branding recognition helped Katniss gain support, likeability and gifts in the arena.
4. Image of Experience and Reliability -- a strong brand identity creates the image that the company or product is established, well known and reliable. It is more likely to be viewed as having more experience, and consumers believe that a company would be less likely to put their name on a product that is bad.
In The Hunger Games there were districts that had trained their tributes for the Hunger Games, and were usually always the districts with a winner. Yet through branding, Katniss became a strong contender and the audience wanted her to win. This led her to have the public’s trust in the rest of the trilogy.
5. Multiple Products and Brand Extensions -- Strong branding allows you to link together various products and create successful brand extensions. Companies can release products under the assumption that consumers will trust that they are offering quality goods. Consumers also will be more likely to purchase and trust other company products if they trust the brand.
In the Hunger Games, the Capitol audience expects a show and Katniss makes them want to see more. The spectators get enthralled in the brands liking both Katniss and Peeta—the two “products.” They had to stay consistent in fulfilling the star-crossed lover role, but the audience loved it and wanted to see more—giving Katniss and Peeta the chance to stay alive.
Branding is essentially creating the image that will help make sales. I hope that the importance of branding is more clear with the Hunger Games examples. Branding is a vital part of keeping your company “in the game” and shouldn’t be overlooked!