Branding Signals From The Batcave

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Welcoming the influence of a super hero in the room, might just elevate our own thinking, out of the pits of habit and mediocrity, into the exalted heights of novelty and excellence.

Christopher Nolan's epic trilogy about the caped crusader, had once again rekindled interest in one of popular fiction's most addictive characters.

However as the Dark Knight rose to box office records, it was fascinating to examine how the Batman has managed to retain his mystique, now into the eighth decade of his existence. For right from the outset, when Bob Kane managed to transform an icon which most humans find inherently repulsive (the bat), into an endearing entity; the Batman series, has always celebrated the power of magical storytelling. And as brands seek to weave their own super heroic tales in the marketplace, there are certainly a few clues that the man in the cowl leaves behind.

Celebrating the multiplicity of human nature

One of the most riveting facets of the Batman legend is the duality of his existence. He masquerades as the ridiculously affluent but callously indifferent Bruce Wayne by day, only to don the garb of a rampaging vigilante at night. The Batman allows Bruce Wayne an alternate identity, where he is unencumbered by the boundaries of the law and society, and is enabled to deliver justice in the manner he deems fit. Part of the allure of the Batman, is down to the highly aspirational nature of this transformation.

Human beings can never be painted with the same standard monochromatic stroke of 'target segmentation'. There are nuances and layers to each person, and every prominent psychologist since the time of Carl Jung, has spoken of the attraction of the 'shadow side'. Thus at an extremely primal level, the character of the Batman offers a very voyeuristic sort of purging.

Brands traditionally have presented viable outlets, for consumers to unleash their otherwise hidden facets. It is surprisingly instructive to note that a significant proportion of Harley Davidson fans, are actually accountants and lawyers. The bike often allows them an escape route into their own fantasy world, even if only when on the road. In times when it is increasingly difficult to maintain one persona all the while, some brands have astutely begun offering consumers the chance to don a temporary mask, and an ephemeral new identity.

Standing apart even in an elite group

It is interesting that the Batman has always got classified as a super hero, because strictly speaking he is not. Rubbing shoulders with the 'super power gifted' likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash at the Justice League, the Batman holds his own by stretching human limits (both physical and cerebral) to the absolute extreme.

And that relentlessly supreme effort is precisely what helps him build bridges with fans. For what can eventually be more super, than a human being magnificently rising far above himself. The Batman's relative ordinariness is the very thing, which makes him so indisputably extraordinary.

This seemingly counter intuitive approach, also can help brands packed together in 'homogenous' groups, to catalyze distinctive conversations. Frequently brands which are clustered together, spend too much time trying to play catch up with the each other. The obsession with going for a like to like contest, is a tempting but an obvious one.

But it is only when someone goes contrary to the prevalent norm that unique identities begin to get established. The case of Apple celebrating the human aspect, when the world of personal computers was being drowned in an 'incrementally technological' debate, is stirring proof of the fruits of such an approach.

Merging diverse influences

The Batman world seems to effortlessly borrow, from the best ingredients across space and time. He is highly trained in the ancient oriental martial arts. But at the same time, he frequently calls upon the current (western) state of the art, to aid his crime fighting endeavors. As Bruce Wayne, his company is involved in the quest for futuristic technologies. Yet his mansion retains the classic old world charm of a traditional English butler. What is amazing is that these diverse stimuli, which have no regard for geography or topicality, seamlessly fuse together into one compellingly coherent narrative.

Likewise brands which have become adept at blending different influences; are those which are perhaps best equipped for the world today. The ever changing nature of consumers, and the need to explore newer markets, makes it almost mandatory that new age brands develop a certain flexibility and tolerance, in their overall perspective.

The concepts of Power Yoga and 'Indian' Chinese food, present two examples of how seemingly dissimilar ideas can be synergized to great effect. In fact India itself is a great national brand, which represents such a melting pot of diversity. Its ability to incorporate the seemingly random and distant, into the mainstream, serves as an inspiring guide for many aspiring brands, looking to add potency to their DNA.

Willing to let others take the spotlight

One factor, which makes the Batman narrative even stronger, is the presence of a truly extraordinary cast of supporting characters. From confidants like Alfred, Lucius Fox, Commissioner Gordon and Robin, to adversaries like Ra's al Ghul, Bane, Scarecrow, Two Face, Penguin and of course the Joker. Then there is also the Catwoman, whose allegiances remain enticingly elusive. Many of these have large and separate fan followings of their own. They present different and robust reasons, to continue following the progress of the series. In many ways they take the burden off the Batman, to sustain audience interest on his own. And the Batman franchise is much the richer, for their presence.

An analogy that presents itself from the branding world, pertinent to this observation, would be in the effective use of media vehicles. The times when there used to be one primary creative idea, being essentially carried forward by one medium (either press or television), is now coming to an end. Today's brands have the option of engagement via diverse media avenues. Many of these alternatives have the potential of carrying forward the brand story, in their own inimitable manner. The channels themselves, are thus enabling different sub plots to be crafted. Perhaps it is now the right moment for this supporting cast, to be truly unleashed to optimize its potential.

And this is just scratching the surface.

The Batman epic does offer myriad other lessons for the perceptive. Some in terms of how different shades and levels, can be added to keep engaging audiences, as they grow older. Others from the perspective of how symbolic and merchandising opportunities, can be created integral to the storyline-read as in the Batmobile, the Batplane, the Batrang and the like. The lateral possibilities are immense.
Perhaps like Commissioner Gordon, it is time to activate the Bat Signal the next time one has a branding crises at hand. For welcoming the influence of a super hero in the room, might just elevate our own thinking, out of the pits of habit and mediocrity, into the exalted heights of novelty and excellence.

Patron Saint-Juhu Beach United
Author, Creative Thinking Trainer, Brand Ideation Consultant,
Vinay Kanchan (Guest) thank you so much Smriti Nair :)
29 Apr 2016 Reply
Smriti Nair (Guest) A very well written article! Love the parallels you have drawn between Batman and brands 
29 Apr 2016 Reply
Vinay Kanchan true that Priya Pandey :)
29 Apr 2016 Reply
Priya Pandey (Guest) I think Batman is a superhero, because he is a human who goes far beyond what he needs to do to help people. Brands definitely can learn something from him. You don't need a super power to be a hero, just a open heart and a willingness to help. 
29 Apr 2016 Reply