Brands which compliment us versus brands which complement us

There is genuinely a brand of mints out there called Complimints. As far as wordplay goes, it is both cleverly terrible and terribly clever.


It made me think a little around the concept of compliments and complements and the context of brands – which is more important?

Let us look first at the brands which aim to compliment us – make us feel better about ourselves, boost our egos and flatter us. For beauty, that’s unquestionably Dove. A supposed pioneer for women bored with the industry standard of young, pretty and thin, they have championed the concept of “Real Beauty” for years. But they are not without their critics, and this compliment is soured by an underlying truth that regardless of what we term real beauty to be, we are still pressuring women to be beautiful. GirlGuiding UK recently released survey results which showed that 42% of girls and young women feel that the most negative part of being female is the pressure to look attractive.

But if Dove was trying to pay us a compliment, which brand is trying to instead complement the way we want to be portrayed? One look at Benefit’s website gives you an idea that their tongue-in-cheek approach to content firmly aligns with their brand promise that “laughter is the best cosmetic”. This in turn complements the lifestyles, motivations and values held by their consumers.

That’s all well and good, Frances, but what does this mean for any brand, beyond the beauty sphere?

It means that you can’t flatter your way into your consumers’ hearts (and shelves, wardrobe or garage). Free samples go down a treat, sticking a name on a bottle of pop makes them feel special, but to really mean something you need to dig deeper.

The new wave of killer brands – the likes of Airbnb, Uber and Amazon spring to mind – are those which complement the broader cultural shifts around them. They complement our desire to “live like a local” (Airbnb boasts at the time of writing, 60 million users and 640,000 hosts), our need for everything right here, right now, and time-poor reality. Uber has conquered a swathe of major world cities not because they tell us we will be better people for riding with them, or that they give better service than black cabs, but because they as a brand complement the way we need to operate in our own lives – quickly, efficiently and with no fuss.

The complementary approach, rather than the complimentary offensive, emphasises the importance of product and promise over simply message and creative. It is, at its very heart, the manifestation of culturally connected.


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