What do Panasonic, ITT, Volvo, and Safeway have in common? Brandlines with the words “for life” in them. What can we usefully conclude from this — apart perhaps from the appearance of relaxed standards around plagiarism or nonchalance about trademark infringement? Let’s find out.
Volvo has the purest version of the brandline and I think we can safely assume that “life” refers to the vaunted Volvo virtue of safety — protecting the lives of passengers and drivers. However, since Volvo is also positioned and perceived as a tool for accomplishing the chores of a certain kind of daily life — commuting to and from work, shopping, soccer games and swim lessons, tail-gating, etc. — we have a another layer of meaning (and imagery) — an upper middle class suburban lifestyle. And, there may even be a third layer of brand meaning at work: customer loyalty — i.e., lifelong loyalty. Volvo wants you to be safe; well equipped and well accoutered for a suburban existence; and wants your business until you can’t drive anymore…and it’s got a tagline that says it all.
In the case of Safeway, “life” probably points to health and wellness: nutritious living through good cooking and eating habits. And, to the extent that food encompasses familial and friendly gatherings, “life” can carry the added emotional-social dimension of the lively celebration. Thus do the terms “ingredients” and “life” straddle the literal/metaphorical boundary line and transcend a merely prosaic reference to product: “ingredients” can mean more than fruit, nuts, and cream. It can mean “the makings of lively gatherings” — one of those things that make life worth living.
Panasonic’s “view of life” is centered on the convenience, freedom, and expanded possibilities, delivered by innovative consumer electronics. Panasonic’s ideas are for a life made easier, nimbler, more efficient, or more entertaining. Panasonic’s “life brand” is about the quotidian, about every day life (work or leisure) and how it is enhanced by consumer electronic and digital technology.
For ITT, “life” may be a reference to product durability (as in, it’ll “last a life time”). Or it may (also) mean something more interesting: engineering practices, processes, and products that fall under a principle or discipline, which is: always to design with the “real life” ends of real people in mind — the antithesis of innovation for its own sake (the sort of engineering designed only to impress other engineers).
My purpose here is not confined to interpreting or evaluating these four particular brands and their respective brandlines, or to how the theme “life” (or “for life”) has been expressed in them. Rather, it is to see if these examples can serve as the occasion for drawing some general conclusions or gaining some insights about the familiar but actually murky world of brandlines.
I began by asking: what do a supermarket chain, an auto manufacturer, a consumer electronics maker, and an enterprise technology company have in common? The prosaic answer was overlapping, identical language in their brandlines. Having delved into them deeper, we can modify that answer, adding an important explanatory twist — these brands all share an apparent desire to answer yearnings that are both more universal and more fundamental than the narrow, more immediate business ends they serve. Put another way, these are businesses that want to transcend themselves as such. They aspire either to be or to remain BRANDS. And here’s the kicker, of all the expressive elements available to them, brandlines appear to be their form of choice for articulating and — one is tempted to say — realizing that aspiration, in words.
Stay tuned for future posts on brandlines as part of this series.
You can also check out a past post: Brandlines 101.