I want to talk about Nicolas Cage if you will indulge me. I know that as soon as some people read that first sentence, they will close this window and go back to that Buzzfeed article they’ve been wanting to read. If you’re still with us, thank you. We’re experiencing an interesting trend in the popular culture world, where we’ve found a number of prominent figures who we love to hate. These figures have somehow gained more notoriety for being viewed as bad at something rather than being good at it. And a prominent example of this is…yep you guessed it: Nicolas Cage.
There was a time when Nicolas Cage was at the top of his game. Mr. Cage won an Academy Award and a number of Oscars in the mid 1990’s for critically acclaimed roles, and is one of the most widely known living actors in Hollywood. You can find his name in a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and one little-known film critic named Roger Ebert listed him among De Niro, Pacino, and Nicholson as some of the best and most diverse actors Hollywood could offer.
Yet now, it seems Nick has become the joke of the entertainment world. Bring up his name in almost any conversation and you will hear at least one person groan in disgust with others lining up to verbally stone him.
Let me clear the air: I’m actually a Nicolas Cage fan – and no not in an ironic nor sympathetic sort of way. And in Cage’s defense, I want to make a case for the power and messiness of branding. Establishing a brand is a tricky thing, because the very essence of choosing a brand identity means you make a decision about the feeling of a brand, and you exclude all other feelings or aesthetics that may confuse that idea that you have chosen. And once you begin to run with that brand you’re promoting, you will align yourself with people who identify with and enjoy that idea or feeling around which your brand was created. People will associate feelings with your brand and story, for better or for worse. The worse being of course, that your brand will isolate you from another group of people who do not like or associate with the brand feeling. So, what does this mean for our specimen Nick Cage?
Here lies the power and difficulty of perception in branding. How well people perceive or relate to the feeling of a brand is a direct correlation to their level of interest, enjoyment, and interaction with that brand. We all bring something different to the table when we interact with a brand, and those things we bring can either make us enjoy a brand more or try to avoid it. When I think of Nicholas Cage, I’m filled with nostalgia and memories of watching Raising Arizona as a young kid, thinking this guy was so funny and so brave to fight off Leonard Smalls to save the baby he stole a day earlier. I watched him steal cars to save his stupid younger brother in Gone in Sixty Seconds. Those feelings have carried over to my having positive feelings about the actor himself. For others, they have memories of some of his (admittedly) less quality roles, which lead to less than warm feelings and a bit of strange resentment towards him as a person.
These hidden presuppositions drive us marketing and branding people crazy because there’s nothing we can do about them. We can’t change what people bring to the table. The best we can do is tell the true story of a brand in the most compelling way we can, and hope that we speak to people that align themselves with our brand, or attempt to slowly change their presuppositions after an initial interaction. In the end, we have to rely on the story to relate to the people we want to interact with our brand, and trust in our ability to tell that story.
When we have freedom to tell the true story in a beautiful way, we can create an even deeper community of people who love our brand for deeper reasons than a cool logo and a nice website, but for all the memories and feelings they bring to the interaction. Those fans are resilient and devoted enough to weather hiccups and mistakes, even a remake of Left Behind.