How People Recognise Brands: I Can Guarantee It’s Not What You’re Thinking!

Brand recognition

How do you think people recognise your brand? Is it by its logo, its colour, its pack, its jingle? Well, you may be surprised to learn these are all only pieces of the puzzle. A brand is a combination of elements, that together make it recognisable. But consistency and compatibility are often the two missing parts that are most often forgotten in building a brand.

Before I get started, I would like to suggest that you read a highly popular post on the topic of brand image here on C3Centricity, if you missed it before. It’s called “What Every Marketer Needs to Know about Brand Image, Equity, Personality & Archetypes” and will give you some great background information.

It covers the topic of brand image metrics in quite some depth, so is a great primer. But I feel that there is so much more to brand recognition that needs to be considered, than the elements that I mentioned in that post.

For example, more and more brands today additionally rely on a face, a voice, an aroma, a unique packaging style, a slogan or a sound that immediately identifies them. And when they do, their brand image gains in depth as well as emotional engagement.

In fact I believe that brands that lack connection with their customers are missing these powerful additions. They rely on mere basics to build their brand’s image, but they are no longer sufficient in today’s online -dare I say virtual? – world.

So here is my very personal perspective on some of the best examples in each of the additional areas I just mentioned. Feel free to add your own in the comments.


Progressive’s Flo and Dr Rick

Some of the faces which represent brands are of celebrities, while others are of unknown people who become celebrities thanks to the brand’s advertising.

One of the first faces I think of for a brand is Flo from Progressive. She won the hearts of Americans, ever since she was first introduced in 2008, with her helpful but quirky discussions with potential customers.

Flo made insurance less confusing and more friendly through her “girl next door” looks and sparky attitude.

In 2012, an animated box was added to their campaign concepts, to represent the company’s products in what was hoped to be a more fun and young-spirited way. Apparently, the vast number of ads with Flo – over 100 – had resulted in a “love her or hate her” relationship, but the box didn’t have the success of Flo.

About five years ago Progressive finally found the answer to attracting younger adults, coming out in 2017 with the “Group session” ads, one of which you can watch below. These were later morphed into self-help sessions with a group leader called Rick, who comes back in 2021 as Dr Rick (see more below). 

Dr Rick claimed to help the younger adult target group Progressive wanted to attract by claiming to help them from becoming their parents. The “On call” campaign was born and appears to have succeeded where the animated box didn’t.


With the replacement of long-standing, award-winning CMO Jeff Charney by Remi Kent, former senior VP and global CMO of the consumer business group at 3M, we’ll have to see where Kent takes the brand going forward.



George Clooney has been the face of Nespresso for many, many years, in fact since 2006. He started off as a smooth and superior man-about-town; the type of man many women would love to be with and men would love to be. But over the years he has become far more approachable, even funny.

This new style means that the ads are always entertaining, even for non-Nespresso drinkers. In one of the latest, a Game of Thrones-inspired commercial featuring Nathalie Dormer, Clooney plays a knight who slays the dreaded dragon. When the medieval queen asks what he wants for saving the kingdom, he doesn’t reply but heads off to New York. “Tis all I desire,” he says as he returns to the palace with a cup of Nespresso in his hand. (See video below, thanks to Madame Figaro)

I wonder if like Progressive, Nestle is trying to open the appeal of its Nespresso brand to younger coffee drinkers through the use of more humour. Perhaps they are (also) hoping that the videos get shared on social media. Can we expect cats too in the future?!!

But humour is only one way to attract younger adults. Today they are very sensitive to such themes as eco-friendly, sustainability and recycling. For this reason, Nespresso also uses its advertising time to address these hot topics. Here is a recent example where they created a short series on being carbon neutral:


There are many other examples of “faces” that we now immediately recognise and associate with their brands. Even if some have been dropped over the years, they still maintain their strong connection:

SC Johnson’s Mr Clean and the muscle man

Quaker Oats and the Quaker.

Coca-Cola and the Polar Bear

Marlboro and the Cowboy – Darrell

Duracell / Energiser and the Pink Bunny


Each face is chosen to represent the brand because it fits with the values with which it wants to be linked. For example:

The Muscle man suggests toughness, never tired, perfect for house cleaning when you want the quickest and easiest solution to difficult jobs.

The Quaker implies integrity, harmony, simplicity, perfect for natural products.

The Polar Bear is associated with cold, stimulating, refreshing liquid (ocean), perfect for a carbonated soft drink.

The Cowboy suggests independence, freedom, strength, perfect for a masculine brand.

The Bunny implies endurance. never-ending energy, perfect for a long-lasting battery.

You will notice that more and more “faces” are now cartoon characters, rather than real people. The advantage of doing this is that associations are unlikely to change, unlike people. Just consider some of the recent sporting disasters which resulted in brands firing their “faces”.

Almost all celebrity spokespeople are required to sign an agreement containing certain moral or behavioural clauses. These give the brands the right to cancel a contract if the celebrity does something which could be damaging to the brand.  Nike has done this with Maria Sharapova, Manny Pacquiao, Michael Vick and Lance Armstrong.  Tiger Woods was apparently dropped by Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Tag Heuer. Wow, that must have lowered his income somewhat!

Find out more about the challenges of choosing a face for a brand in this article on advertising law, and this one on the top 15 athletes who were dropped by their sponsors.



Besides the faces of celebrities, some brands have adopted a very individual voice or sound as well. This adds more personality to a brand and further helps it to stand out.


Branding is becoming ever more challenging with the explosion of line extensions, as well as all the new product offers that continue to be launched every year. But customers are demanding novelty, even as they also become ever more confused by the vast range of choice in some categories Therefore to stand out from the competition, a brand needs more elements to highlight its image and personality.

As I have shared in this article, a brand’s face, voice, sound, tone, aroma and pack all increase its differentiation and enhance brand recognition.

In addition, research shows that stimulating more of a user’s senses significantly increases loyalty. What does that mean for your business? Well it could mean an estimated 25-30% of your brand’s revenue just from better stimulating your customers’ senses! So what are you waiting for?  

For more ideas about improving your Brand Building, check out our other content. And if you need more support then contact me here:

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