In the season one finale (and one of my favorite scenes) of Mad Men, AMC’s cult classic show about Madison Avenue and the 1960’s advertising industry, the show’s protagonist and ad-man-extraordinaire Don Draper delivers a powerful pitch extolling the pernicious and “potent” appeal of nostalgia.  Contextualizing nostalgia as a “twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone,” he describes Kodak’s Carousel product as a “time machine…that takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

The lesson of course is that brand association is most powerful when it’s personal.  Brands are used as external cues by companies to convey taste, prestige, value, etc., and consumers use brands for much the same reason.  In the case of The Carousel, Draper made the connection for Kodak between the product and how customers would relate to the product on a deeper, emotional level.

Pioneering the advertising industry’s shift to a branding focus, Nike took this concept further in the 80’s and 90’s with its “Just Do It” campaign and celebrity athlete endorsements, creating an enduring association between the brand and sports athletes – and more importantly, consumers who identify themselves as athletes.  Nike’s brand association delivered an easy way for consumers to build and cement their own identity as athletes, in much the same way Apple’s and Levi’s consumers identify as young, hip, and creative.

Creating a sentimental bond between your brand and customers is what all companies hope to do, but few do it as well as the big leaguers like Coca-Cola, Mastercard, Nike, Apple, etc.  Of course, they have the budget to back it up.  But with the digital tools marketers have access to today, cultivating a powerful personal connection and brand association with customers is easier than ever for companies to do.  Marketers no longer need a multimillion dollar ad budget or commercials with caring elephants in them, to do it.  That said, commercials with caring elephants in them do a great job of tugging at the heartstrings.

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