Hardwiring has entered marketing vernacular. It’s a metaphor to describe what happens when brands get neurally stuck in people’s minds even if the brand believes it’s moved on. There are two valid approaches to tackling it, and one risky one.

Let’s start with the risky one…

  1. Over-riding hardwiring – a perilous route whereby a brand forges ahead without acknowledging its existing associations. McDonald’s fell foul of this when they first advertised their salads. Healthy and fast food simply didn’t fit together and no one believed their claims. There was a huge backlash with accusations of their salad dressing having more calories than a Big Mac, amongst others. This strategy requires huge budgets – both money and time – and even then, as in this case, it may not work.
  2. Tackle hardwiring explicitly – Skoda did this in the early 2000s when they made fun of their reputation in their ads. A bold but very effective move. This strategy works to overcome serious reputational issues…as long as the product can deliver. Skoda had recently moved to VW engines, making this a realistic strategy.
  3. Contemporising hardwiring – this is about identifying which associations to hold onto and how to reframe them for contemporary relevance. Clarks is a great example – drawing on the warmth, nostalgia and down-to-earth brand associations, they created the ‘Life’s one long catwalk’ campaign, showing everyday people strutting down the catwalk, doing ordinary things like throwing out the rubbish. In the midst of celebrity culture, they celebrated their authentic selves, and were propelled into the 21st century.