Maybe You Should Put the Brakes On Your Branding

How often are you greeted at the airplane door by a flight attendant bearing freebies? Not very often. The New York Times tackles the amenity kit today — that package of items usually offered to the upper-class passengers and those on international flights with things like a complimentary toothbrush and eye shade.

According to the story, this is another branding opportunity for the airline as well as any brands that pop up in the bag. Airlines have toyed with the design to make it more eye-catching, people buy vintage kits on eBay.

According to Anita Gittelson, who the article calls the “godmother of the modern-day amenity kit,” some airlines are beginning to look to this as a possible revenue opportunity. So there might be a flight attendant standing in coach when you board bearing little bags, but they would be for sale. This is a bad idea.

The amenity kit is supposed to be a sweet nothing whispered to a customer that makes them feel special. When you eat that chocolate the hotel housekeeper leaves on your pillow, it’s the best chocolate you’ll have all week. It’s free and it was given to you to indicate that the brand thinks it’s important to make you feel like a VIP. Selling the kit (or the chocolate) would reduce the value of it to the dollar amount someone is willing to pay.

In other words, the value of the bag is in the positive word-of-mouth that it generates. Gift bags from events serve the same purpose. Likewise, social media activity.

Recently, Facebook began giving users the opportunity to tag brands in their photos. Whereas before you snapped a picture of your friend laughing and toasting with a Budweiser, now you can make sure people know it’s a Bud. “Is Facebook Brand Tagging Creepy or Cool?” Mashable asked. “Now Americans can whore themselves out on Facebook,” Stephen Colbert said.

There’s a line where the positive whisper of word-of-mouth turns into the shriek of branding surfeit. “Over-Branding Kills Profits and Scares Off Consumers,” Graham Button, partner at the comms consultancy Genesis writes for Fast Company. True words.