The promise (and failure) of Brandtags.net

I loved it when I first saw it. Brandtags.net invites users to look at a logo and type in the first thing that enters their minds. I found it fascinating — until I realized it’s yet another example of poor research perpetuating negative stereotypes of women.

Type in “Oprah” and see what happens. The top three most entered words? Fat. Black. Bitch. Yes, that’s right, Oprah, the maven of women’s media landscape is nothing more than a fat black bitch. How valid a representation of Oprah is this?

Oprah’s media universe is worth a fortune. She earned $260 million in 2007 and is worth $2.5 billion. Her daily talk show alone gets 7.3 million viewers (that’s compared to 2.9 million viewers for Grey’s Anatomy).

So I got to thinking. How is Brand Tags so wrong? So nasty? So racist? (Type in NBA or Citibank and you’ll see what I mean). Researchers are Harvard have shown how stereotypes work. We know that people rely on implicit stereotypes when they make snap judgments. This is the downside of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

We live is a complex social world. We try to make sense out of it by looking for patterns. Theorists Berger and Luckman call these “typifications” or roles that we take for granted. Typifications help us because they allow us to know what to do in social situations without really thinking about it, or, as Berger and Luckman explain it, they alleviate us from making “all those decisions.”

All Brand Tags really does is tell us what those typifications are for the people who visit their site. Who is visiting their site? We don’t really know. The first rule of sampling is to ask yourself, are the people who participate systematically different from the people who don’t?

People who participate in Brand Tags are obviously Web savvy. Someone forwarded them a link and they filled it out. Perhaps they read business media because Brand Tags has gotten some press. They have the time to enter text. They are also anonymous.

Is this what you would consider a “representative sample”?

Brand Tags has promise (I myself have used it to gain insight about a few things). But it mostly has the worst of our stereotypes. Is that insight? Perhaps. But it’s not insight about Oprah — it tells us a lot about the people who are talking ABOUT Oprah.

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3 responses to “The promise (and failure) of Brandtags.net

  1. Thanks for this. I was dismayed to see the Web2.0ness of this lead to so much bloggy hype. “The first thing that comes to your mind” is not a deep insight. And in the aggregate, crowdsourced, it’s not a deep insight, either.

    As there’s this inexorable push to do “research” in broader and quicker modes, this quick-hit word association thing is probably typical.

    I mean, I believe there are strong, quick, powerful emotional meanings that we attach to brands and so on, but I don’t think we can auto-surface them in a moment or two.

    Inviting a shallow anonymous reaction pretty much begs for lowest common denominator stuff, doesn’t it?

  2. I am stunned that people are shallow, stupid losers.

    That was the first thing that popped into my head.

    dger

  3. Representative sample of internet savvy users interested in marketing I would imagine?

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