Titanic as an Ambiguous Legendary Brand: Why it Works

I’ve taken this post from a press release touting a study that will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Brands do not necessarily need to present a clear, well-defined image in order to appeal to consumers. Let’s use the Titanic as an example. The authors of this studyIMG_0818write, “Titanic. More than a century later, the name of the ill-fated steamship still strikes a chord with millions of consumers worldwide. Consumer fixation with the Titanic is not simply due to the scale of the calamity, since the death toll has been far exceeded on many occasions. Nor is it entirely attributable to humankind’s appetite for the macabre or merely a case of being famous for being famous.”
The consumer appeal is partly explained by the myths it embodies – the myth of nature trumping technology and the almost Biblical lesson that great riches are worthless in life-or-death situations.
Equally important is the unfathomability, the ambiguity, the imponderables at the heart of the Titanic’s terrible tale,” continues the authors. “Was the Titanic considered unsinkable? Why were several ice warnings ignored? Why weren’t there enough lifeboats? Were the steerage passengers locked below decks?”
The story of the Titanic leaves consumers pondering various questions that do not have clear-cut answers. It is this lack of clarity – the inherent uncertainties – that ensure the Titanic’s imperishable consumer appeal.
“The Titanic represents a marketing bonanza for movie makers, memorabilia sellers, tourist attraction managers, and many more. This casts doubt on the long-standing assumption that brand identities should be clear, concise, coherent, and consistent. Clarity is overrated. Imprecision is underappreciated. Legendary brands need both,” the authors conclude.
I find this argument very interesting and applicable to human relationships, especially dating. It isn’t always reality that people respond to – they also are attracted to myth and mystery. Ambiguity  allows people to project their own thoughts and ideas on to individuals and products.
source: Stephen Brown, Pierre McDonagh, and Clifford J. Shultz, II. “Titanic: Consuming the Myths and Meanings of an Ambiguous Brand.” Journal of Consumer Research: December 2013. For more information, contact Clifford Shultz (cjs2@luc.edu) or visit http://ejcr.org
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