Won’t You Light Your Candle?

Recently a piece of packaging came to me from Baxter of California. Having not had much experience beyond their facial products, I read with wry amusement this statement that wrapped in large sans-serif text around the box:

This is a “Flammable” scented candle made by Baxter of California in the United States of America.

We call it “Jasmin Noir”.

It weighs nine ounces, that is two hundred and fifty five grams, and lasts for roughly seventy hours. It is made of a soy-based wax, hand-poured in New York by our friends at Joya.

Now here is the instructional blurb for the retards who need one. Please discard if glass is cracked or broken. Place on a non-flammable surface, out of sunlight, drafts and out of reach children, you sickos…For best results, burn candle between one and three hours and keep wick trimmed to a quarter of an inch. Discontinue use when only half an inch remains. Never leave a burning candle unattended, you moron. Here is our address to send all of your complaints: Baxter of California in Culver City, California. The zip code is nine zero two three two. Ready for the phone number? In the eight hundred area code, the number is four two one, then three six one and four. Our world wide web address is baxterofcaliforniadotcom.

Now from that short, somewhat confrontational blurb I can reason a couple of things about Baxter:

  1. Their brand knows exactly who their customer is.
  2. Their brand knows exactly who their customer is not.

Who they are is someone with a sense of humor that is not necessarily sophisticated but definitely worldly. They may just be a bit smug and self-righteous. Who they are not is someone who can’t get the joke. Baxter is branding toward a very specific niche rather than turning itsbrand into a bland to appeal to the masses. This can be a very profitable strategy when done correctly.

This sort of branding represents the quintessential aspect that so often falls by the wayside in many branding campaigns that I call being unabashedly yourself. Some of the greatest brands we can think of from Volkswagen to Apple to Diesel got where they are by not bowing to sterilization of their ideals and narrative. Volkswagen wants drivers. Apple just works. Diesel sells sex first and jeans second. Baxter knows how to laugh, probably with a cocktail in its hand.

What makes one company timid and another forcefully go forward with its light shining out for the world to see? People are perhaps naturally shy and so it’s no surprise that many brands are focus-grouped to sterility. We find the edge thrilling but often back away out of fear of the unknown in the long run.

Running a brand breathlessly and unabashedly for a long time also can be tiring for many, so it’s important to keep a supportive team of advocates close at hand to cheer you on (just like a runner in a marathon). Many times I’ve seen individuals love an audacious idea but back away after a committee review, or a brand start strong but go milquetoast in the long term as entropy sets in and energy levels dissipate. The thrill of being a little scary does tend to wear off after a honeymoon with a big new idea, but  reinventing towards the lowest common denominator just leads to commoditization and disillusion.

This runs counter to the temptation for that mass appeal that seems at first to deliver increased profit. Even Apple, the current vanguard of audacious minimalist style, had issues when its charismatic leader left, only to return in time to save Apple from becoming another dry Microsoft.

If I had to give advice to any of the brands out there, it would be the old chestnut to do boldly what you do at all. Don’t let the pressure of the crowd tell you that your idea is too threatening (crowds always sanitize to the lowest denominator) and remember that audacity is often rewarded in the end. Stick to your guns and brand the hell out of whatever you do, and hang in there. That’s what we’re here to help you do, after all.