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 January 26, 2006




At a recent client marketing awards program Tom Carroll, Vice Chairman, TBWA Worldwide, spoke of the need to “Think Big.” He related several brand successes among which were Adidas, Nissan and Pedigree, which were enlightening and inspiring. One statement in particular intrigued us, perhaps, even more than these notable case histories. Specifically, he said, “brands are verbs. Apple ‘Liberates’; Nissan ‘Shifts’; Adidas ‘Challenges’.”


Grammatically speaking verbs are words that “typically express action or a relationship between two things … and to show agreement with their subject or object.” We are all familiar with the action part of verbs - to do, to engage, to resist, to love, etc. However, as it relates to “brands,” versus products, it seems the verbs that describe them express a relationship, and agreement, between the brand and its customers. The brand verb is about promises, performance and relationships. It suggests a connection with target customers that come through agreement and participation.


The brand verb can be applied to all kinds of brands whether they be companies, service brands, pharmaceutical brands, fast moving consumer goods brands, medical brands and even people brands (e.g., the Reverend Billy Graham “Evangelizes”; Pope Benedict XVI “Pontificates”; Osama Bin Laden “Terrorizes”; and Oprah Winfrey “Nurtures”).


Take the quiz below to match the brand with its most appropriate verb (answers appear within the Boats & Helicopters section of this article):


 1.  Just For Men Hair Coloring a) Lowers
 2.  Nokia b) Delivers
 3.  MiniCooper c) Grooms
 4.  Virgin d) Comforts
 5.  Olay Regenerist e) Rejuvenates
 6.  Gillette f) Satisfies
 7.  Tylenol g) Salutes
 8.  FedEx h) Fulfills
 9.  Lipitor i) Regenerates
10.  IPOD j) Motors
11.  Wal*Mart k) Savors
12  Budweiser l) Entertains
13.  Snickers m) Discounts
14. n) Rocks
15.  MasterCard o) Connects



Certainly, the verb one perceives is based upon one’s relationship to the brand forged from her/his attitudes and/or experiences. The people brand Pope Benedict XVI may seem to “Pontificate” to those who are rebellious of ecclesiastic authority while to others, whom are among his loyal and adoring flock, he “Shepherds.” Moreover, a given verb may evoke a different reaction among different segments of the population. For example, Osama Bin Laden “Terrorizes” may lead to reprehension among westerners while it inspires his devoted followers.


Brands within an industry or category may have different verbs to differentiate themselves: The National Enquirer “Titillates”; People Magazine “Gossips”; The Washington Post “Informs”; and The New York Times “Reports” while the Economist “Educates.” In the beverage arena Coca-Cola “Refreshes,” Budweiser “Salutes,” Absolut “Popularizes,” Starbucks “Indulges” and, perhaps, Tropicana “Nourishes.”


Sometimes we may need to modify or explain the verb to establish the brand’s meaning. Avis “Tries” harder. Ritz Carlton “Serves” ladies and gentlemen. Sony Playstation “Transforms” your world. RoC keeps its “Promises.”


It’s possible that brands can share the same verb. After all, Crest Toothpaste “Fights” cavities and Scope Mouthwash “Fights” morning-breath and Listerine Mouthwash “Fights” halitosis (i.e., bad breath). This verb, “to fight,” is target need-state directed.


Brands can be aspirational, or visionary, such as with our earlier example of Sony’s Playstation, which “Transforms” your world. Playstation messaging calls-out for people to “live in your world, play in ours.” Or brand can be directed towards satisfying very basic needs such as Crest does with its promise to “Fight” cavities. The choice is yours.


Once a brand has established a meaning with its customers it may be difficult to change it. The best option is to evolve it consistent with the brand’s original agreement and relationship with customers. Oprah Winfrey does more that “Nurture.” Today she has gown to “Inspire” and “Champion.” Maybe it is more fitting to say that Ms. Winfrey “Enables” – through inspiring, nurturing and championing.




  1. Here are the answers to the quiz:


1-e: Just For Men Hair Coloring “Rejuvenates.” It can rejuvenate your social life, love life and, even, career along with your hair. Just For Men does more than color hair. It thickens and restores the health of men’s’ hair.


2-o: Nokia “Connects” people, and with people, through its stylish cellular phones.


3-j: MiniCooper “Motors,” not just runs, transports or drives. The word “motors” suggests uncompromising performance and a most enjoyable experience.


4-l: Virgin “Entertains.” Need we say anything more? Travel to London on Virgin Upper Class and see what they mean.


5-i: Olay Regenerist, well, “Regenerates” healthy, youthful skin one cell at a time “because it’s revolutionary cell care.”


6-c: Gillette “Grooms” men to be their best. Yes, Gillette has products for women but its strong heritage with men seems to overwhelm any connection or meaning with women. Perhaps, this is a result of going to women with brands that are presented by Gillette (e.g., Gillette VENUS).


7-d: Tylenol “Comforts.” Tylenol has been successfully established as a caregiver and comfort is one of the most important things caregivers do. We trust Tylenol because it is like a mother’s gentle touch. Moving to something stronger like “Fights” would be terribly difficult for Tylenol to achieve in anything but the longer term.


8-b: FedEx “Delivers” the world overnight.


9-a: Lipitor “Lowers” cholesterol significantly more that diet and exercise to help consumer-patients achieve healthy cholesterol levels.


10-n: IPOD “Rocks.” Okay, so we are making a pun here. Rock as in rock-and-roll music; rock as in rock your world. We each own one and are constantly dazzled by what we can do with it and what it does for us. What does IPOD do for you?


11-m: Wal*Mart “Discounts.” It fulfills a very important customer need with a product benefit better that its competition.


12-g: Budweiser “Salutes.” We toyed with the verb “Rewards.” But somehow “This Bud’s for you” and “King of Beers” kept playing in our heads. “Salute” suggests something bigger is going on here. The consumer is being lionized by the “King!”


13-f: Snickers “Satisfies” your hunger and your need for indulgence. No other candy bar can do it as well as Snickers. That’s because Snickers is made with milk chocolate and filled with nougat – and packed with peanuts. Hmmm, might be a good time for a Snickers bar now.


14-h: “Fulfills” careers and dreams by getting people back on the right career track not just getting them a job.


15-k: MasterCard “Savors.” More specifically, MasterCard enables its cardholders to savor what really matters in their lives – those priceless moments.


  1. Try applying a verb to your brand to position it with special meaning to your customers, and prospective customers. Here are some ways you might want to approach it:


    • Identify your target customer group clearly and completely using the Strategic Target Profile tool (you can find it at our Website;
    •  Determine whether you want your brand to be aspirational or satisfy a basic but important need of your target;
    • Identify the relationship, or agreement, you want to establish with a very specific target;
    • Use a verb that serves to meaningfully differentiate your brand from competition;
    • Modify the verb as needed to clearly communicate and establish the agreement with your target (e.g., Ritz Carlton “Serves” ladies and gentlemen);
    • Evolve your brand and its meaning overtime to enhance your competitiveness.


Adopt a “verb.” Give your brand meaning with your customers.


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney



Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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