It’s a Brand Hijack

I’ve just finished reading ‘Brand Hijack: marketing without marketing by Alex Wipperfurth.

The basic premise is that consumers are increasingly involved with brands – tools like the internet, blogs, smartphones, etc have made it easy for consumers to spread their view of brands in a way that marketers cannot control. The notion of the book is very timely (despite having been written 6 years ago).

But first let’s start with a definition:

brand hijack: consumer takeover (synonym).  The consumer’s act of commandeering a brand from the marketing professionals and driving its evolution.

The book focused on some specific examples of brands/companies that had high customer involvement – Napster, Starbucks, IKEA, Pabst Blue Ribbon (who?!? Sorry I live in England)

I took issue with the title itself.  A hijack is essentially something unwanted, where as the book was all about creating an environment where consumers could actively interact with the brand and show brand manager potential new avenues through the appropriation of some of the brands characteristics – e.g. adoption of DocMartens by sub-cultures, home-made Barbie outfits.

All in all though I liked the book and thought it was ahead of its time.  Although a lot of it appears common sense now, I admit that in 2005 this thinking would’ve been pretty novel.  However, I did feel certain points were dragged out to the point of tedium.

An interesting concept from the book was that highly involved brands concern themselves more with the culture benefit (what the brand means) rather than its functional benefit (what it is) or emotional benefit (what it does).  Hijacked brands follow an ethos and a world view rather than a benefit – its about belonging rather than owning. You can see this in the early success of Google (‘Don’t be evil’) and the Mac Vs PC debate.

I don’t necessarily agree that you should let consumers takeover and show you the way but I think there is value in a sense of bringing them closer in and having them co-operate in the development of the brand – think of the development of Twitter as an offering or LEGO’s consumer based creations.

So what are my view on the manifesto’s points? See italicised copy


Let go of the fallacy that your brand belongs to you. It belongs to the market.
Not quite. Your brand belongs to you. How it’s perceived and accepted belongs to the market.  Know who you care about and ensure your desired view matches theirs.

Co-create your brand by collaborating with your consumers. Allow them the freedom to show you new opportunities you’d not envisaged – not co-create

Scrap the focus groups, fire the cool chasers and hire your audience. No brainer, yes (if you can – which is a bigger problem)

Facilitate your most influential and passionate consumers in translating your brand’s message to a broader audience. Yes, see Co-create above.

Be patient. Your brand initiative could take years to take off – or weeks. Highly product/category dependant, but can definitely see examples where either apply.

Be flexible. Carefully plan every step, but be totally open to having the story rewritten along the way. As Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth’.  Strategies are where you are going. Plans are how you get there.  You can change how you get there but changing where you are going all the time means you get nowhere.

Lose control. Free yourself to seize sudden opportunities that only last for moments. Understand that you cannot always control everything.  But be in control of what is important and what is not.  Sweat the important stuff, the stuff that will seriously

Resist the paranoid urge for consistency. Embrace the value of being surprising and imperfect. You don’t necessarily need consistency but you do need a set of value that you adhere to – e.g. racists appropriating of DocMartens as a symbol of their identity or chavs in Burberry

Respect your community. Draw the line between promotion and the adbusting trinity of manipulation, intrusion and co-option. Be authentic with your community. But be aware that you may be serving many different communities and therefore you need many different sets of authenticity

Let the market hijack your brand. Let them express their affinity for the brand as long as it does not go against the core values of the brand – see Resist above

I would recommend reading an abridged version such as this rather than the whole thing as it is rather repetitive and some of the content is no longer fresh for now.  Nevertheless, this book does promote the value of your customers and how to maximise their value to you so it is interesting.


5 thoughts on “It’s a Brand Hijack

  1. hahaha Pabst Blue Ribbon is a very cheap beer here in the US out of Illinois I think. Fun fact about them the founders of Nike liked Pabst Blue Ribbon so much, that the original name for Nike was Blue Ribbon Sports. Also a play on words as the winner is always awarded a blue ribbon in sports.

    The Green Guerilla

  2. Pingback: Resolutions, resolutions | The general musings of Andre Santos

  3. Pingback: Branding Bazaar Blog

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