It’s hard work to change people’s cognitive patterns. Companies try to do that all the time by kneading their brand images, logos, names, creative teams, ads and spokespeople. Take trucks. Brand image may not be a huge deal to me (here in Brooklyn), or to a lot of other people. But it does tend to haul a lot of weight for truck owners. "I love my truck," as the song goes.
Truck owners are probably as passionate and loyal to their truck’s maker as they are to their own. You think it’s hard for an automaker to conquest car customers? Trying to get truck owners to shift brands is like putting a steering wheel in a locomotive. Good luck, pal. Long story short(er): the emotional vector around truck branding and identity is really important, maybe more than the rational items around capability and features.
On that front, Chrysler Group has spent the last four years remolding its Ram truck brand identity -- a lot of time and lots of money getting that message out there, starting with "My Name is Ram," back in, I think, 2009: Ram is not part of Dodge. Since then, it has been hammering at those train tracks with ads, logos, tags, events, announcements, partnerships, sponsorships, affinity marketing, and on and on. Millions spent to change the idea in people's minds that its truck ain't a car.
Parenthetically, the shift helps Dodge, too: Chrysler needs to establish the car line as a somewhat rebellious brand versus the more laid-back Chrysler division. A pickup just doesn’t fit in that equation. Neither does a Dodge minivan, probably, but that’s another story.
Well, I have some totally anecdotal evidence that maybe it’s not there yet: just two words in a press release. It’s really nothing. A lexical rounding error. The release, from a metrics company, said the ad from "Dodge Ram" garnered strong results in the big game with the oblong ball.
I think a lot of people are making that mistake. I do it. Our minds are still aligned that way. It’s a habit. It’s wiring. I recall a year or so ago being at a Ram event in Nashville. One of the brand folks admitted that changing the Ram mindset hadn’t been a cakewalk inside the company, either.
I would say I no longer automatically think "Dodge Ram." I mean, I know they really are separate brands. Which is damned good because I write about this stuff every day. But consider this: I just wrote a story on the media firm’s findings, and guess what? I actually wrote "Dodge Ram" in the first draft too. Then at 1 o’clock the next morning (when I should have been asleep), I reread it and corrected the mistake. And I'd just done a Q&A with Chrysler's head of marketing in which he made a point about separating Dodge and Ram. Was this the first evidence of mental decline? I'm not that old. Maybe I should drink less bourbon.
By the way, have you read The Shallows, that bestseller about how the Internet changes our cognition? Don’t, or you’ll go back to typewriters. The author, Nicholas Carr, writes about the malleability of the workings of the higher brain, and how the physical structure -- on the cellular level -- literally changes based on how we think, what we perceive, what we do repetitively and habitually, and how we take in information. But like rewiring a house, rewiring the brain is hard. It takes a lot of time and work.
Carr uses the phantom limb phenomenon as an example: People who have lost a limb know intellectually that they have lost a limb, but they still feel pain in that “arm” because the brain is still running, electrochemically, through the old circuits. It takes a lot of repetitive exercises to change that.
I think this grey-matter issue may have something to do with why it is so very hard to change peoples' perceptions about things like brands (not to mention a lot of other things), and their identities. I guess Dodge … Ram … I mean Chrysler Group has to keep hammering on those rails for a while longer.