Quote from Lisa Simpson

Anything that’s the something of the something isn’t really the anything of anything.

This quote came from Lisa Simpson, the smarter-than-her-age (she’s been eight-years-old for the past 23 years or so) daughter of Homer and Marge on The Simpsons TV show.

What she meant, of course, is that no one really wants to be known simply as being like something else. And we could add that most people don’t want their brand or company to be known only as a comparison to another business or product. In this case, her mother had just told her that although she couldn’t go to Harvard, she could go to McGill University, “the Harvard of Canada.”

I’m not sure I agree with Lisa in every case, but I can certainly see where sometimes the comparison stretches facts so far that it becomes absurd, making the object being compared actually seem worse than it really is.

Sometimes making a “something of the something” comparison is negative and harmful to your brand. Hearing, for example, that the laptop your company builds is the computer industry’s Edsel—the mid-1950s Ford failure—is not something you ever want to hear.

Sometimes the comparison is neutral and adds nothing to your brand. Calling most small private planes “Cubs,” as non-aviation people have done for the past 75 years, makes a point everyone can understand. The comparison is as harmless—accept for the misuse of the copyright—as calling all cotton swabs “Q-Tips” or all tissues “Kleenex.” It’s neither negative nor positive. It merely represents the way the plane’s name has become generic, symbolic of a whole fleet of similar aircraft.

But occasionally the comparison brings a positive twist that lifts your company’s brand from the also-rans. Saying as we sometimes hear, for example, that a company’s new refrigerator is the Cadillac of home appliances gives the brand style, a symbol of quality enhanced by the comparison. The same is true in saying, as WashingtonPost.com has, that the owners of the Five Guys hamburger restaurant chain are the “Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft” or in calling bird artist Roger Tory Peterson “the Audubon of the 20th Century,” as mentioned this week in The New York Times.

Sometimes saying a product is “the something of the something” is not really a direct brand comparison but stills makes a point, such as when the TARDIS, the British police telephone box on the Dr. Who TV show, was referred to as the sports car of time machines.

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