The map is not the territory

Date of publication: June 15, 1994


On April 2,1993, "Marlboro Friday" made the marketing world suddenly sit up and realize: BRANDS WERE DYING. What had gone wrong? This paper suggests an answer. The soldiers of the marketing wars, using marketing research as crutches, have splintered the brands whose sheer monolithic consistency and fortitude had made their companies successful. They have overextended them in a mise en abyme process "effet vache qui rit"), like images in reflecting mirrors or dividing cells: Nike> Nike Air > Nike Air Jordan, Citroen> Citroen AX> Citroen AX Air France Madame, etc. As a result, consumers - who have learned to recognize all these new offers - have cluttered their mind with useless information. Today, the average consumer probably recognizes over 5 brands - 5 "words", verbal representations that make him virtually speak a foreign language: the language of brands. The Eskimos have 40 words to say "snow"; but we have just as many words to say "breakfast cereals" (Corn Flakes, Rice Kris pies. Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Weetabix, Golden Grahams). There are simply TOO MANY BRANDS, hence these brands are loosing their function. They are no longer "marks", "signals", beacons helping the consumer navigate through a sea of offer. By growing to be so large and so complex, the language of brands has gotten out of control. Then, what is the solution? How can manufacturers get out of the corner they have painted themselves into? The paper suggests two promising ways: that of catachresis, whose validity has been proven by retailers, and that of Brand Liking.

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