Brand Attack: Anti Branding

by Amit Kumar-MBA School of Management ,

Asian Institute of Technology,



Build a brand nurture it and cash it have been the prima facie motive of many brand gurus in and around the globe but what you do when there are hordes of marketers striving hard to denounce the whole good thought behind your brand concept.

Marketers view brands as the sum total of customer's experiences and perceptions, most of which can be influenced. The war for market shares has tempted the marketers to use unfair practices in both upstream and downstream trade. But with increasing awareness of these practices, the consumers are boycotting the products of such companies to the extent of launching an ‘Anti-Brand' product. The following factors have contributed to the popularity of this movement.

1. Boom in Internet exploration – This is the single most important factor for the spread of this culture, Type the name of any major brand into an Internet search engine, and parasitic sites will soon appear attacking that brand. The protesters talk of censorship by the mainstream media, but they have found a way of circumventing the mainstream media via the name recognition, maintained at huge expense, by those they are attacking . Without the ability of the internet to dissipate information to a global audience and provide information parity between the corporate and the consumers, the factors below would not have gained impetus.

2. Distrust among Commercial Establishments – Over the past decade, many corporations have succumbed to scandals and cover-ups. Old school strong brands like Enron and Martha Stewart have been booked before the law leading to a general distrust about any sort of communication from corporate.

3. Materialistic Consumer Motivations – Consumers today are living in a society which is driven more by values and recognition of Individualism as compared to the mindless materialistic desires of the 70's. This is evident from the fact that most brands today try to satisfy the higher self actualizing needs of the people.

4. Conscious about Environment – There is a new found concern for the environment among the people, which can be attributed to organizations like Greenpeace gaining popularity. Oil companies by law are required to pay the cleanup expenses for any harm done to the environment by their oil spills.

5. Exploitation of Human Rights – People around the world are realizing the exploitation of human rights people in developing countries, who have to work for international conglomerates at very low wages. There has been widespread coverage of the conditions of workers in the sweatshop factories of Asia

What are the concerns?

•  ? Advertising – The main issue for Anti-Brand Movement is of promoting their message. Since most of the targets are heavy advertisers, many media companies like NBC refuse to sell media space to Anti-brand Campaigners like

•  Brand ‘Anti-Brand' – Many original believers in Anti-Branding have started perceiving Anti-Brand itself as a brand. Just as other brands promise the delivery of benefits, an Anti-brand is based on the delivery of a promise of bringing down the corporation. This has reduced the momentum of the campaign.

•  Credibility of Issues – Some Anti-Brands are based on issues which most people find hard to relate to and patronize. PETA has launched a campaign against a milk brand by Coca Cola. The point of contention is that milk is a racist drink and is not suitable for African American citizens.

•  Ideological disconnect – The Anti-brand motion has again swung towards the struggle between capitalistic ideologies and sociological ideologies. This struggle manifests itself in the form of a campaign against some brands, for somebody's personal ideologies. People are realizing that most of them cannot connect with these ideologies any more and wish the upliftment of society as a whole.

•  ? Misuse: There have been several instances where people have tried to use this movement to forward their own commercial and ideological motives. In France , Mecca-Cola has been launched which is positioned as an Anti-American brand to provide a committed drink for Muslims around the world.

Reformulation of the Brand

Based on the feedback received from the Anti-brand community as well as regular customers, the company/brand can reinvent itself in order to stop its image from being its liability in the following ways.

1. Socially responsible : The firm/brand can reinvent the organizational culture and its policies to let go of its associations with unethical practices. Methods to do this can be as follows

2. Actively participating in CSR: Microsoft supports one of the biggest educational support programs in the USA through the Bill and Melinda Trust fund to distance itself from the litigation regarding antitrust violations.

3. Repositioning: McDonald's has successfully repositioned itself against the very facts that were leading to its downfall that of introducing Americans to unhealthy eating habits. McDonald's is the official sponsor for the Olympics and has started a program of promoting fitness which is also reflected in its menu which includes salads, etc.

4. Association with Events: Fair and Lovely which was facing backlash on account of its sexist ads promoting fair skin has associated itself with a scholarship program for young girls called “Fair and Lovely Foundation”. The aim is to promote women's empowerment.

2. Harnessing onto the Anti-Branding wave - A clever tactic for companies could be to latch on to the very wave of counter-culture by positioning their brands as standing only for the product attributes and benefits they provide and not the images they are trying to portray. Sprite is positioned as the brand which stresses the importance of being individualistic. The tag line itself conveys this by saying “All thirst, No gyaan

3. Private Labels - A large number of FMCG companies are discovering the importance of private label brands, not only for the wide penetration and turnover advantages, but also for the fact that consumers buy the brands without coming across the names of large multibillionaire corporations on them. Consumers perceive the private label brands as being benign and personalized.

4. Open Source Customization- In some product categories, the product can be positioned as an open source product which is free for the consumer to manipulate and customize according to his likes and dislikes. Mostly related to technology product offerings, the technique helps the brand to reposition itself against the complaint of homogeneity which consumers today want to stay away from.

Linux clearly benefited from the use of open source technology and today finds usage in many mainline applications. Many computer and console games are promoted as being open to customization. The popular game Counter-Strike emerged when some enthusiasts modified the original game called Half-Life, a practice which the company itself encouraged.

After taking the above steps, the company feeds fresh communication into the system in order to further alleviate the fears of the campaigners and to inform the public about the actions taken by them.


The anti branding had evoked a mass attention but never the less incidents such as t he launch of the Blackspot shoe by a leading campaigner adbusters has attracted a lot of criticism from its own followers .So the Brand gurus should not only ponder to promote their creations but to refrain them from getting maligned by reinventing them more often.