Lisa Merriam

The Changing Role of Brands–New Brand Dimensions

The role of brands is changing. Once it was simple: Brand dimensions were simply a guarantee of quality. As branding grew more sophisticated, marketers came to understand the importance of the company behind the brand. Corporate brands communicating the promise of the company were defined.


Today, we are seeing new brand dimensions to the their roles and uses. They now play political, social and, macro-economic roles. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 were corporations, not countries. Across a wide spectrum of issues, brands have become potent symbols in debate and protest.

  • After the 9/11 attacks, protesters against American policies couldn’t get to the American Embassy or the United Nations in Islamabad, so the attacked KFC
  • Frustration over economic issues in Argentina was vented on familiar brands not the nebulous economic system
  • Anti-globalization activists attack large, popular brands from McDonalds to Mattel to get their grievances into the headlines

Expanding Brand Dimensions in Political and Social Debates

Brands are a handy tool in policy debates because they make abstract concepts simple and personal. Brands are in our houses, on our backs, and in our bellies. In a larger sense, brands are the commercial diplomats of free economies, democracy, and individual choice. On an issue-by-issue basis, brands are used to attract attention to and dramatize everything from sweatshop labor to cruelty to dolphins.


Managing the Role of Brands Is a New Marketing Imperative

Ready or not, major corporations and powerful brands must recognize that their roles and responsibilities have expanded. It is no longer enough to talk about product performance and corporate promise. Companies need to realize and proactively address expanding brand dimensions:

  1. Begin by being aware of the political, social and economic impacts of your brand
  2. Be proactive in defining your values and policies
  3. Participate to ensure that debates are not one-sided in favor of detractors and to prevent misinformation
  4. Never betray your policies and values. Your brand may never recover from the breach of trust