Jack White, Quentin Tarantino and Equivalency Branding

Something occurred to me recently when I heard Jack White’s cover of “I’m Shakin’” on WXRT: Jack White is the Quentin Tarantino of rock.

I'm Shakin Video

Check out Jack White’s kickin’ cover of “I’m Shakin'”

They’re both obsessive fans who push well-worn genres beyond their traditional boundaries. They’re both unapologetically indulgent—Tarantino’s movies are rarely short of three hours, and White’s guitar solos can singe the hair from your ears—but find forgiveness with fans and critics alike. Both Tarantino’s movies and White’s music can feel like parody and homage at the same time.

Golly, Jeff, that’s some fascinating media criticism. What does it have to do with branding?

Say you’d never heard of White but you’d seen most of Tarantino’s movies. If I told you, “Jack White is the Quentin Tarantino of rock,” you’d have a pretty good idea what to expect from his music.

Quentin Tarantino Filmography

Quentin Tarantino — Unapologetically Indulgent?

If you’d never heard of Jimmie Johnson, but I told you he was the Tiger Woods of stock car racing, you’d probably guess Johnson was the favorite to win every race and championship—even though Woods himself hasn’t won much of anything in years.

If I told you Sub Zero was the Ferrari of refrigerators, you’d probably guess it would be beautiful, high-performance, and staggeringly expensive.

You get the point. The human brain has a hard time understanding new concepts, but less trouble associating a new idea with a known entity. If you’re marketing a new concept, describe it as the equivalent of a known entity—in other words, a recognized brand—and you’ll get the idea across faster. It’s a branding shortcut.

Let’s call it Equivalency Branding.

When Kauzu introduced the employers’ portal to its hyperlocal, mobile job search tool, we had a hard time summarizing its benefits—until we called it “The Help-Wanted Sign for the 21st Century.” Then employers understood: it attracted jobseekers who were already in the area, with the added reach, mobility and analytics of a modern web platform.

The founder of a Chicago startup with an innovative online video editing platform sometimes describes it as “Shutterfly for video.”

A successful local entrepreneur, promoting a legal environment to help Chicago startups pursue business models with a positive social impact, says she wants to “make Chicago the Delaware of social enterprise.”

Equivalency Branding doesn’t work in every situation, but it’s surprisingly adaptable with a little creativity.

Say you’re an independent in a field dominated by a massive competitor called Megajumbo. Here’s how you might leverage the well-recognized Megajumbo brand to position your own:

  • By niche market—“the Megajumbo for medical office management.”
  • By locale—“the Megajumbo of River North.”
  • By specialty—“the Megajumbo of custom-designed micro-widgets.”
  • Or by competitive advantage—“like Megajumbo with better customer service.”

You might not want to use Equivalency Branding for your official marketing materials—Megajumbo’s lawyers might not appreciate it—but it can be a great way to introduce yourself in a small group, networking or sales situation.

Hey, and if it catches on, I’ll be the Steve Jobs of Equivalency Branding.

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5 thoughts on “Jack White, Quentin Tarantino and Equivalency Branding

  1. And then there is the “inverse” of equivalency branding as demonstrated by this line for the Nest Learning Thermostat in a feature listing of best new cutting-edge technology products: “With its sleek exterior, the Nest has as much in common with an ordinary thermostat as an iPhone 5 does with a Walkman.”

  2. Gotta be careful that your target audience’s perceptions of your Equivalent brand match your own. For instance, if you told me that Jack White is the Quentin Tarantino of rock, I’d expect his music to be self indulgent, needlessly complex and boring. If Jimmy Johnson is the Tiger Woods of racing, he must be a morally bankrupt narcissist who happens to be able to drive.

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