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If We’re Being Honest…(Or How Young Consumers Are Telling the Cold Hard Truth About Brands)

What if brands were so honest they put the truth about what they’re really used for and how consumers really feel about them right in their logos? It isn’t likely to happen, but consumers are taking the truth into their own hands, creating brutally honest versions of brand logos, slogans and more in order to tell the real story (good and bad) about products and companies. 

We wrote about the practice of brandjacking in our Lifeline report earlier this year—revealing the ways that consumers are co-opting brands as their own in order to subvert the brand’s message, to use branding against the brand itself, or to creatively participate in their own guerilla marketing. 70% of Millennials think it’s fair for a brand’s logo to be used without their permission if it sends a message about something the brand is doing, and fake company sites, Twitter accounts, and even ad campaigns are all common methods of brandjacking.
Not all brandjacking is malicious—for some, brandjacking has evolved into a display of creativity and it can even be a way to show love for a brand’s designs or products. In the case of the brutally honest brandjacking we’re covering here, it can be both positive and negative, as the goal is to tell the truth. The trend of honest brandjacking could be seen as a result of young consumers intense desire for transparency in brands. Cohn & Wolfe found that “more than two thirds of consumers in the US, UK and China rate “honesty and transparency” alongside price and quality when considering to buy a product or brand.” Brutally honest brandjacking is an extreme version of that desire for transparency: imagining brands as so honest they will say what everyone else is already thinking about them. Here are three popular examples of brutally honest brandjacking, and what they say about consumers and brands alike:

Honest Logos: 

In 2011 and 2012, graphic designer and artist Victor Hertz created a series of honest logos, saying they were “revealing the actual content of the company, what they really should be called.” The series used familiar logo designs with the names of the companies altered to show how the products were really used and viewed. Facebook became “procrastination,” Starbucks became “Sugarbomb Combos,” YouTube became “CatVideos.” Before long, the logos were circulating the web. Designboom posted them along with the commentary: “in the wake of ‘revealing the truth’, the new logos also give us a chance to reflect on our own personal habits of consumption.” The idea behind the Honest Logos project was to zoom in on the role a brand or product actually played in consumers’ lives, erasing the original brand messaging to reveal the reality behind the marketing. The fact that they resonated so much shows something else: consumers are well aware of the difference between how a product is presented and how it is used, and sometimes they might be more receptive to the honest truth than then the illusion. 

Honest Movie Posters:

These consumer designed posters are an online trend in and of themselves. Cracked has been holding reader competitions to create the best honest movie posters for years, and sites from College Humor to Hypable to The FW regularly create their own honest versions of famous posters to dig into Hollywood fair and tell it like it really is. The FW’s series of honest Disney posters changed Beauty and the Beast’s title to “Stockholm Syndrome,” and The Lion King to “Hamlet With Animals.” Honest movie posters can reveal not just what consumers feel about a particular movie, but also how they feel about the world the movie is released into. A Hunger Games poster on Hypeable last year was altered to say “Job Market 2012 Basically.” Just as often, these are snapshot consumer reviews at their best and could teach the entertainment industry a few things about consumers’ world views, and how they view big box office fare. In one series, 2012’s The Help is adjusted to “White People Solve Racism,” and another gives Lincoln the title “Daniel Day-Lewis Wants An Oscar.” 

Honest Slogans:

This recently launched Tumblr collects altered slogans and mottos of major brands to reveal, like Honest Logos, what people really think. Some examples include Q-tips: “You use them in your ears even though we say not to.” Yellow Pages: “Here you throw this away,” and Sriracha: “Always worth the pain.”  Because the designs include the original logo, the messages have a little more impact (you certainly aren’t guessing who they might be talking about). The slogans range from irreverant (“Capri-Sun: Try not to poke a hole through the back”) to the critical (“Ticketmaster: Yeah, we’re going to charge you whatever we want.”) Each gives a glimpse at the hidden consumer opinion of the brand. 


So, why does it all matter? Brands should pay attention to the brandjacking content being created about them because it can give them a gauge on how people are feeling about the brand, give them insight into how their products are being used, and even get some ideas about future marketing content. And while it might take a brave brand to actually highlight some of the honest brandjacking content being made about them, they would very likely be rewarded for it, because not taking yourself seriously is a must for getting Millennial consumer cred.