The Indestructible Brand


First things first: the book Brand Like A Rock Star is now available online. No more waiting. You can order it right here as a paperback or Kindle version. It starts appearing in stores on Saturday. Now on with the fun…

Jay emailed me this week asking “Is Pan Am an indestructible brand?”

After the debut of the new TV show Pan Am you might wonder if it isn’t indestructible!

Despite four financial collapses, bankruptcy, terrorist attacks, crashes, and perpetual abuse of the name since its glory days faded in the 1970s, it still carries tremendous allure.

Every young boy (and even some girls!) growing up in the 1960s wanted to be the Captain of a Pan Am jet.  For a 60s girl, it was a dream job to be a Pan Am stewardess. Flying was romantic and exciting, and Pan Am stood for all that was great about the era.

Pan Am didn’t just fly airplanes. They flew Clippers. They didn’t have a terminal building at JFK Airport in New York, they had a Worldport.

Today the functioning Pan Am brand clings to life as a railway in New England. Yet the brand’s cache makes owning the name profitable. Licensing of the logo on merchandise, in movies, on clothing, and in TV shows, makes owning the name worthwhile, even though it no longer functions as an airline. Pan Am exists primarily as a trademark today!

But to answer Jay’s question, I don’t think the brand is actually indestructible. Great brands have a purpose, and that is to make money for shareholders. Pan Am failed in that regard, and hasn’t flown since December 3, 1991 when Pan Am Flight 436 landed in Miami. If you fail at your primary business objective, you fail the brand test. You are destructible.

But what is really cool about Pan Am, as Jay pointed out, is the incredible power of what the brand stands for to this day:

Romance | Exploration | Adventure | Intrigue | Destiny | Luxury | Excellence | Freedom | Escape

When you stand for things like that, you can build a powerful magnet with your brand. Despite Pan Am’s disappearance as an airline, we still associate all of those wonderful images with the name. If you stand for emotionally powerful ideals like that, we will remember you forever.

On the other hand, if you stand for “low prices”, we will only remember you until a lower price comes along.

Rock stars use the power of emotion to draw us in. You never forget how Pete Townshend smashed his guitar on stage night after night in the name of rebellion. You never forget how John and Yoko’s stayed in bed for peace. You never forget the lyrics of the Bob Seger song that was playing on the car radio while you were in the back seat growing up too fast. Powerful emotional ideals indeed. 

The lesson of Pan Am is to stand for powerful emotional ideals, not empty advertising cliches. You may never build an indestructible brand, but you might just come close.

By the way, remember what was in the background when The Beatles landed at JFK in 1964?







John Lennon, Pan Am, The Beatles, The Who, Uncategorized 140 Comments