We’ve all been there, right? Said something at a party that was a little… out-of-character. Worn something to an event that was a little… bolder than expected.
All of us have had moments in which we’ve said or done something we wouldn’t normally—whether to get a rise out of people, grab attention, or break out of our comfort zones. These moments don’t reflect who we truly are—though they may offer a glimpse into our internal struggles, revealing the kind of people we wish we were, or the fears that hold us back.
But what happens when a brand has one of these moments?
Take, for instance, the New England furniture chain Bernie & Phyl’s, founded by married couple Bernie and Phyllis Rubin in 1983. Until a few years ago, their ad campaign featured family members—either Bernie and Phyl themselves, or their sons who now run the business—accompanied by the store’s catchy, old-school jingle: “Bernie & Phyl’s… quality, comfort, and price!” In 2014, they dropped the jingle and, in an effort to shake things up, aired a humorous commercial featuring a naked man.
This year, it seems, they’ve decided to take their ad campaign one step further. I experienced this first-hand a few months ago, when I sat down in the Boston subway and saw this:
And there were others. All equally clever and equally suggestive, from “Looking for a big strong man to spoon with” to “I’m really into the group thing.”
Though creatively, I appreciated the ads—what copywriter wouldn’t? I mean, how much fun were these to write?—my professional envy was soon followed by distaste. And not because the ads were sexually suggestive. But rather, because they didn’t align with whom I knew (or thought I knew) Bernie and Phyl to be. These ads just didn’t seem like, well, Bernie & Phyl’s.
“…followed by distaste. And not because the ads were sexually suggestive. But rather, because they didn’t align with whom I knew (or thought I knew) Bernie and Phyl to be.”
According to Bernie & Phyl’s President Larry Rubin, the ads were designed to get attention and attract a younger demographic to the store. While that’s all well and good, and the ads have certainly gotten attention—both good and bad—I can’t help but wonder what the store is doing internally to be the younger, more fun place it seems to want to be.
Because ultimately, and here at KHJ it’s part of our proprietary approach, what you say should align with who you are—who you’re being in the world. A catchy ad campaign may attract some millennials to your store, but will they like what they see and experience when they get there? Will they want your furniture in their homes? Will they share their experience with others? And will they come back?
This is not to say that a brand can’t change its essence, or its soul. It’s also not to say that a family-owned and family-friendly company can’t be provocative or fun. Because of course it can. But any change, be it professional or personal, should start from the inside out—not the other way around.
Back to that party from the other night. The one where I said something I probably shouldn’t have just to get a rise out of someone. Today I ask my fellow party-goers to forget about what I said. Today I ask them to remember who I really am.
Unfortunately, brands may not be afforded the same luxury.
Customers are seeking brands that are true to themselves and deliver on their promise.
Read more about why and when to consider a brand audit.