Do you love your sneakers (sorry, "athletic shoes")? Do you really, really love them? How much do you love them? What would you do to show your love of your Nikes, Comverses or Pumas? Would you let yourself be "branded" - for life - with their logos? Would you do it without demanding to get paid for being a walking advertisement?
You probably wouldn't - but then again you just might, if you are one of the legion of modern "brand lovers" who have found a home on a new Israeli Web site, MyBrandz (http://www.mybrandz.com/).
Tattooing a logo seems a bit radical, but MyBrandz CEO Eran Gefen - who knows brands, having founded and operated for seven years Israel's top Web ad agency - says that it's more common than you think. "Brands today are not just names of products. They're part of popular culture, and people connect to the brands that they like far more intensively than they did in the past," he says.
At this past year's Nevada "Burning Man" festival (think Woodstock without the music), the MyBrandz team offered temporary brand tattoos to all comers, to see just how much people love their brands. "The reactions showed just how deeply people identify with their brands," Gefen says. "One woman tattooed the Vespa brand name on her body, because she thought it was romantic - her first boyfriend gave her a ride on a Vespa - and another man tattooed the Lego logo on his body, because he sees Lego as a symbol of creativity."
The fact that participants in Burning Man - which is as counterculture as you can get - showed such enthusiasm for corporate boosterism indicates that MyBrandz has tapped an interesting vein. And a recent "tattoo festival" MyBrandz held in San Francisco - where nearly 150 people let the company pay for real, permanent tattoos of their favorite brand - shows that love of logo is a deep-rooted thing, among some at least.
But you don't have to get a tattoo if you want to identify with your brand, says Gefen: just join the appropriate brand page on the MyBrandz site, where you'll join a community of people who think the way same as you do - a bit like what goes on at corporate "fan sites," except that the MyBrandz page operates outside the aegis of the company that owns the logo.
"Just like MP3 downloads moved authority in music from the record companies to music lovers, and just like Youtube lets anyone run their own virtual TV station, there is a movement afoot today to bring the power of the brand into the hands of the public. That's the stream MyBrandz taps into," says Gefen.
MyBrandz is about far more than being a "fanboy" of a certain product, Gefen says, adding: "MyBrandz is the only site that looks at brands as content. Users bring their enthusiasm, knowledge and experience with a brand to the site, and a community is built around users."
Users post ideas, comments, assistance, etc., and those who are most "into" a brand can strive for "brand freak" status, making them as much an expert on a particular brand as the people running the company that makes the brand are. Apple fans, for example, have posted designs of what they want the much-rumored Apple Tablet to look like, and Harley Davidson fans help each other with bike tips.
Criticism of a brand is also welcome. "We don't edit anything, and users are free to post what they want," Gefen says, meaning that old rivalries, like Mac versus Windows, can show up on the site as well. "But most people will gravitate to the communities of the brands they like, we have found. There are plenty of complaint sites, and the people who come to MyBrandz are looking for a different experience," he says.
In case you're thinking that MyBrandz is some elaborate scam to recruit advertising automatons for corporate America, Europe or Asia, think again. The companies represented have absolutely nothing to do with the "brand clubs" on the MyBrandz site. "We have received requests from corporations to allow them to have input in the brand communities, and their representatives are certainly welcome to sign up, but they receive no special privileges and are users like everyone else," Gefen says, adding that the company prefers to keep things strictly in the hands of the community - at least for now.
And there is plenty reason for a corporate brand to want to take a more active role in their fans' site. "We have a unique 'approval matrix' that ranks brands that are rising and waning in popularity, based on 28 different factors, including such things as the number of tweets or Facebook mentions a brand gets" - sort of like "Google PageRank, but for brands," Gefen says.
While the site doesn't keep stats on who joins (indeed, it prefers to keep things as anonymous as possible), Gefen knows that corporate representatives check out what is being said about them. "We got a message from Corona Beer, which wanted to know why there was no page dedicated to their brand," he says. "I answered that it was because nobody had gotten around to starting the page yet, but they were welcome to do so" - which they did, he says, but according to the rules of the site, which puts brand fans, not the company, in charge of the nature of the page.
Not everybody "gets" MyBrandz - but there are plenty of people that do, most of them young. "It's a fact that the Coca Cola fan page on Facebook has 5 million members," says Gefen, adding that a recent study done by Microsoft shows that teens mention well-known brands as part of their regular conversation with friends an average of a dozen times a day.
"Clearly, brand consciousness today is much greater than it has been in the past," says Gefen, and any company that wants to survive in this increasingly competitive world needs to understand how to tap into that consciousness.
"The days of the corporations dictating fashion, style or usage are gone," he says. "Today it's all about the brand and how it connects with consumers. Anybody can make anything in China today, so products have become commodities. Some companies, such as Harley Davidson, which was absorbing input from fans long before the Internet, know how to connect with consumers, but others don't - and those are the companies that are going to have a hard time in the coming years."
In fact, in conversations with corporate bigwigs, Gefen says, many have expressed excitement - coupled with nervousness over the MyBrandz concept. "They're excited about being able to tap directly into 'brand freaks' to give them guidance about what people want, but they have to get used to the idea that the process is no longer in their hands," he says.
And where will consumers take that process? There's no telling - tattoos, temporary or otherwise (such as the one a Youtube fan had made in honor of Youtube CEO Chad Hurley's visit to Israel last month; see http://tinyurl.com/yhhwvgk) are one way, but MyBrandz latest promotion will definitely open up the wellsprings of brand-fan creativity. The site will give each brand's biggest fan a share in the company they love, based on the "awesomeness" of posts users put up on fan pages. Just how "awesome?" Whatever it is, it's going to have to beat tattooing; corporate logos on the body are just not that unique anymore!