You are judged by the company you keep. Building brands by association

It’s great to see so many organisations now understanding, and embracing, the importance of their brand and the fact that it’s their most valuable asset.

They’re investing more in strategy and design in the early stages to define their brand proposition too. However, they are still failing to take care of the one thing that can ruin all that hard work – who they let their brand hang around with.

What I mean by that is the association conjured up when people see a particular brand, whether at a venue, store, event, on/in documents, magazines, on the TV or at the cinema.

A brand might want to be perceived as ethical, but advertise in a publication with questionable morals; or sponsor an event that isn’t aligned with its own values. This might win it great coverage, yes, but at what cost and is it really helping build strong brand equity?

So, we know a brand can be harmed by being seen in the wrong place or alongside the wrong people, but can a brand be built by its alliances? Absolutely! It’s just like hanging out with the cool kids in school. Building piggy-backing on the reputation of another brand, person or sport/activity can be incredibly powerful.

Many years ago, I remember hearing YO! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe speak at a conference. Apart from his rendition of ‘hit me with your rhythm stick’, a less harrowing thing he said really stuck with me.

During the period he was trying to raise funds for the business – we’re talking late 90s – sushi didn’t really exist in UK. Woodroffe knew he had to create confidence in an idea that was at the time completely alien for the market. He did this by simply thinking up sponsors and sticking their logos above the door of their first restaurant – Sony, Honda and Nippon Airlines to name a few.

He attributed this move to bag funding on perceived reputation: people saw the big names and assumed the business was safe and that YoSushi was a great brand to be associated with.

Red Bull is another fantastic example of a brand that, by association, is so much more than a sum of its parts. The packaging design is …ok, the advertising… interesting, but neither casting a halo of cool, edgy or energetic. But boy have they nailed it on the alliance front. The secret to Red Bull’s success is in the relationships and alliances it has built with numerous cultural ‘tribes’ that have, by association, imbued it with almost every attribute a brand could wish for.

Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall – RedBull YouTube Channel


From skateboarding to stunt flying, Formula One to football – and of course the incredible Stratos project that saw Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner freefall 128 kilometres from the edge of space. The official YouTube video has had more than 45m views. It really doesn’t get much cooler, edgier or innovative when it comes to brand association.

Dove is another example of a brand punching above its weight by association. It’s been around since the 1950s, playing on its moisturising claim. In 2004 it launched a new campaign that’s proved to be a game-changer.

This brand association isn’t with a sport, celebrity or another brand – but with body positivity, diversity, self-worth and ‘real beauty’. Since its first Campaign for Real Beauty’ hit the media, Dove has gone from strength-to-strength by championing women (and men) no matter their age, size, shape or ethnicity.

This brand association with body positivity and authenticity has earned Dove some 28 million Facebook followers who tune in for the brand’s optimistic and encouraging messaging.

Follow the moral compass

So, you’re now considering what association you can forge to build your brand’s equity. I say, choose your brand partners wisely. As a starter for 10 – as consumers seek out wellness, mindfulness and health, aligning your brand with authentic, ethical and sustainable values will reap more rewards than trying to score an easy hit with a B-list celebrity or sponsoring a high-profile event, simply because you can.

Take time to consider the emotional connection you want to forge with your target consumers. When they think of your brand, what mental picture would you like them to conjure?

If you’d like help to hone and build your brand equity via association, drop me a line.

Your success, is of course, ours – by association.

Adam Arnold

Founder & Creative Director of award-winning branding agency Brandality.