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3 polarizing branding secrets from death cigarettes

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3 Polarizing Branding Secrets from Death Cigarettes

How can you build a stronger brand? Take a position that some people hate so your preferred customers love you.

I heard the best lessons about “How to create your Brand?” on the podcast interview with UK entrepreneur BJ Cunningham.

BJ Cunningham created a company called The Enlightened Tobacco Company in 1991, selling a cigarette called “Death Cigarettes”. It was presented in a black package emblazoned with a white skull and crossbones logo. Just imagine how that image might appeal to the rebels. That is the start of a strong brand.

His premise was to take a position that none of the other cigarette companies were willing to take. That’s good advice for any business building a brand! At the time all the tobacco companies were still denying any ill effects of smoking tobacco. You know the tired story, “It has not been proven that cigarette smoking causes cancer.” Somehow the tobacco barons rehearsed well enough to deliver that lie with a straight face. But that is a different issue.

Back to branding
The branding up to that time in the cigarette business was all about life style cowboy, sophisticate, artist, and debutante imaginary stuff, and all lies. It had worked for decades but lies do eventually hit the wall.

So when all your competition is telling lies, you can stand out by telling the truth. Imagine that.

Tell people that cigarettes will kill you. Come on smokers today know that tobacco smoking is bad for you. Tell a smoker that cigarettes can kill you and they will tell you, “Hey, it’s my life.”

So here are the insights of branding brilliance from the lesson of Death Cigarettes that resonated with me. You might consider them when building your own brand.

There are two ways you can create a brand either with oodles of money or creative positioning.

Nike built their brand with oodles of money. Imagine what they paid Tiger Woods for his endorsement.

Death Cigarettes did it with creative positioning. Cunningham explained his three rules for creating branding.

  1. Take a polarized position.
  2. Make enemies.
  3. Create tension.

Examine your position. How creative is it? If you have oodles of money like Nike then spend it on your brand. Otherwise, the only way you will build your brand is by creative positioning.

  1. Take a position away from the crowd. Stand where no one else is standing.
  2. Be bold. Be prepared to disagree with the status quo and make enemies along the way. Pick your market and be willing to annoy others.
  3. Create tension. Make people choose. Create controversy. Coke versus Pepsi. Windows versus Mac. Batman versus the Joker.

Who can you think of that has created their brand by following these three rules of creative brand positioning?

Harley Davidson jumps to mind immediately. People love them or hate them. That is powerful branding. Remember, branding is about creating powerful emotions both love and hate. Figure out who you want to love you. Have you noticed that the strongest brands have lots of enemies?

Are you ready to create your brand? If so, follow these three rules for creative brand positioning

  1. Take a polarized position.
  2. Make enemies.
  3. Create tension.

You will need to be bold. You will upset some mainly your competition and those who will never buy from you. Can you live with that? If so be bold, take a position and be prepared to make some enemies along with some raving fans.

George Torok helps business owners gain an Unfair Advantage over the competition. He is the co author of the bestselling Secrets of Power Marketing. Claim your free copy of “50 Power Marketing Ideas” at Arrange a keynote marketing presentation by calling 905 335 1997 Find more tips at