What’s the hottest brand on the planet? Let me tell you about it… Customers line up around the block for its products. Some people are horrified by what the company does and condemn its management. Authorities want to ban or restrict what it sells. But they fail – giving the company more notoriety – which emboldens its leaders to take greater risks, to the delight of customers and the outrage of critics.
Says a customer, “The further out the products, the more loyal its fans.”
Bigger, envious competitors are on the prowl to take over this brand. One giant has offered $2 billion, which makes loyal customers cringe. They don't want the smaller, edgier outfit submerged into the boring corporate ocean.
Know the brand? It’s Rockstar Games, owned by Take Two Interactive. It is revered by young video game players who pounced on Rockstar’s latest title, Grand Theft Auto IV.
Rockstar’s formula is a seething mix of vicarious violence, satire and moral ambiguity. Lesson in brand success: It helps to have sensible, concerned adults trying to outlaw what you do. My teenage son explains: “Once Rockstar had an image of controversy, people trusted them. It’s like South Park. Companies who push the envelope and get away with it have a license to do whatever they want.”
How good is “Grand Theft Auto IV”? “Awesome!” (What else could it be?) “It got the highest score on the most critical website – a perfect ten in every category – never been done before.”
Brand marketers: Do you see the essence of this brand’s success? First, the product is brilliantly designed. It plunges gamers into a dangerous, murky world where they want to do good but, darn, they’re just sucked into doing bad – usually harming others. What could be more awesome than that?
But the key to having fiercely loyal customers is the company’s own story line – an untamed rebel is pursued by a self-righteous establishment… and prevails. Highest ratings! Ten out of ten! It’s a story young gamers will line up to be part of.
A columnist who decries the violent thoughts stirred by games like Grand Theft Auto quotes a boy who got into trouble at school. “When I went home, I started playing Vice City and got a tank. I ran over everybody. And I smashed a lot of cars and blew them up." The columnist has “only one word to describe parents who would buy this game for their children: Disgraceful.”
I’d like to note that I did not buy this game for my son. Not at all. He came at me when I was off guard, hit me with a soda bottle, took my cash and bought the game while my scalp was being stitched up. I figure the incident only adds to Rockstar's mystique.
Hey, if you’re really controversial and young guys applaud, you have license to do whatever you want. Does your brand have a story like that?