Brands. Everything is a brand these days, each meaning something, good or bad. Even people are brands now.
Brands are things you love or loathe. Or are indifferent to. Some you’ll go out of your way to buy into or be associated with, others the opposite. Some you trust, others less so. Unless the brand spends millions on a rebrand and starts to look like or mean something else.
There is the mother of all branding exercises going on in Milan right now. A thing called Expo 2015 is taking place, the latest instalment of the World Fair. It’s like a motor show for countries, where the countries replace the cars and each has a few dozen square metres to build upwards and outwards with stands to show the rest of the world what you’re all about.
Britain has wild gardens. America has big screens of Barack Obama talking. Brazil has a big rope climb. The Czech Republic has a swimming pool with a half-car, half-bird thing in it. North Korea has ginseng. Belgium has fries. Argentina has big steaks. Belize has a man with a nice picture book of beautiful views. Italy has queues for its display too long to join. Azerbaijan seemingly has a lot of money. Azerbaijan’s ‘stand neighbour’, the UAE, has even more.
Like all major events, the expo has those other brands we already know running through it too. The big boys like McDonald’s and Coca Cola are there with stands, as is coffee maker Illy, which looks to have stumped up the funds to pay for the stands of all the countries it sources from, making them mere extensions of the company brand.
These types of brands, much like big countries, you know what they stand for already, and no matter what they do and what products they make they have a reputation, good or bad, that’s here to stay. Unlike, say, a start-up company or a smaller country, which have to fight for your attention and have a degree of freedom in how they brand themselves.
Alfa Romeo is a big brand. Not a big or successful company, but a big brand. It, too, is in Milan right now, preparing to relaunch itself as a car maker that, at long last, makes the kind of products you associate with the brand.
Like a McDonald’s or a Coca Cola, you know exactly what Alfa Romeo is all about as a brand. But Alfa has for too long been McDonald’s without a Big Mac or Coca Cola without, erm, Coca Cola.