Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George recently provided a vivid lesson in the power of branding.
Several weeks ago, organizers changed the route and start time of Chicago’s gay pride parade. Cardinal George was concerned that the new schedule would result in the parade interfering with the morning worship service at a neighborhood church.
On Christmas, a local television station aired an interview with the Cardinal during which he said, “You know, you don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism….”
As you might imagine, the Cardinal’s comparison of the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan went over rather poorly.
He recent apologized for his remarks, though people in Chicago are still protesting.
The lesson in all of this is clear: understand the power of brands and be careful how you use them. Cardinal George is a smart individual, and I’m fairly confident he didn’t mean to offend people by mentioning the Ku Klux Klan; he was just making a point. But the Ku Klux Klan is a powerful and strikingly negative brand. By bringing the KKK brand into the discussion, the entire tone changed. The brand transformed the situation.
Brands have enormous power. Some brands are positive and some are negative. Be careful how you use them.
I wonder if branding has an even more apparent power, especially since it brings out the notion of religion vs. personal choice. In essence, issues that are more dear to people, or issues that people can personally identify with, become even more sensitive, and thus, any marketer must be even more weary of the power of branding. Sometimes, the issue being discussed is larger than the company itself.