Carefree or Not?

When the rain finally came, my company's virtual watercooler turned to spring. Going away? Skiing? Beach? Gardening? Shopping for anything new? What could cheer us up? Spring always brings a bit of hope (especially this year) that things might be just a little better - brighter, happier, and more carefree. Hmmm ... carefree. As a brand geek, I couldn't resist trying to find out which brands are regarded as carefree.

To figure it out, I tapped into the BrandAsset Valuator (BAV), Landor's brand research tool. BAV, the world's largest study of brands (3,000 brands in the United States alone), is based on the knowledge that strong brands share some fundamental traits. We measure product brands, company brands, sub-brands, TV shows, celebrity brands, not-for-profits. We started collecting data in 1993 and have done so every year since. Embedded in our study are 48 personality and image attributes that describe all brands to a greater or lesser extent. Carefree is one of those attributes.



The findings were not at all what I had expected. Apparently, to be considered a carefree brand in the United States you need to be either chewing gum, funny, or targeted to children. Making "free" part of your brand name doesn't hurt either.

Top 15 Carefree Brands in 2008

1. Carefree gum
2. Comedy Central
3. The Ellen DeGeneres Show
4. Disneyland
5. Bubblicious
6. Six Flags
7. America's Funniest Home Videos
8. Juicy Fruit
9. Carefree feminine hygiene products
10. The Wiggles
11. Disney World
12. Rao's
13. SpongeBob SquarePants
14. Stayfree
15. Life Savers

Let's start with chewing gum. Three of the Top 15 are gum brands, led by Carefree itself. Although that tells us that some of the gum category catches spillover from Carefree's name and positioning, we should also note that there were 11 gum brands in the Top 15 back in 2001. The gum category may have splintered and/or developed more clear positionings between brands. Sounds like a good thing for the category. Congrats.

Another clear pattern is the strong relationship between humor and being carefree. From the broad spectrum of funny that comprises Comedy Central to Ellen DeGeneres's generous, gentle humor to the silly commentary of "SpongeBob SquarePants" and the broad slapstick of "America's Funniest Home Videos," we find that shows that make us laugh also make us feel more carefree.

Further, the many child-oriented brands and theme parks in the Top 15 lend a certain wistfulness to the list. You can sense the nostalgia for a more carefree time when our adult consumers gave high carefree ratings to Disneyland, Disney World, Bubblicious, Six Flags, the Wiggles, and SpongeBob and his friends.

Lastly, and most obviously, we are pretty literal. The most carefree brand in America is ... Carefree gum! And Carefree feminine hygiene products come in at No. 9. Hmmm ... I wonder how Carefree Beer, Carefree Air, or Carefree Toilet Paper would do?

So what have we learned about what it takes to be a carefree brand? First, there is no obvious connection to spring or to brands that we might use more in the spring or in the summer (except possibly the destination brands and theme parks). More actionably, it really helps to be funny. Reminding us of our childhood is a good idea and it sure doesn't hurt to have carefree in your name.

But this review raises a more interesting question: Is being carefree a critical component of a strong brand? The answer is no. Of the Top 15 carefree brands, only the perennial Disney leadership brands (Disneyland and Disney World) are in the Top 50 Strongest brands overall in 2008, and only one more makes it into the Top 100 Strongest -Comedy Central. I think next month we'll look at what attributes really do matter in today's troubled economy. But for now, I think I'll chew some Bubblicious and watch "SpongeBob."

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