Thursday, November 6, 2008

Analyzing Greta Garbo by Six Image Criteria

Keller uses six evaluation factors to study and define a brand image.

The name Greta Garbo is easy to remember being easy to spell, pronounce, and having the linguistic characteristics of alliteration, consonance, slant rhyme and plosives to help with recognition and recall. Her style and theme is unforgettable, anyone who has seen her look in photographs or film finds out who she is and remembers. Louie B. Mayer did, writers did, leading actors did, critics and so did the general public (see Vieira or Paris throughout).

The slogan The Swedish Sphinx balances the plosives in her Name with sibilants. Sibilants start with s or soft c and are associated with the romantic, which is also the nature of her films. Again the slogan uses linguistic devices such as alliteration to aid recall. The fashion is classic so always contemporary, familiar and easy to remember.

The name Greta Garbo gave her initial meaning because it was familiar and discreetly associated with the existing knowledge system on Hollywood films. Clara Bow up through the mid-20s was a rising and charismatic star (see Noir Dame, 2008, p1 or Rhodes, 1994, p 191). Furthermore, Garbo’s theme advanced that meaningful start with a formula that is a primal, fundamental human relationship that can be applied to many situations. In her style, she was not the stereotypical female of the time, but rather now considered to be the first new woman. She expressed the spirit of freedom that pervaded the 20s. In retrospect, she was in the genesis of recognizing that freedom for women in the United States.

Keller (p 142) explains this as consumers finding the image aesthetically appealing, “Is it likable visually, verbally and in other ways.” Persuasive brand image elements reduce the burden on other marketing communications. In the film industry, the benefits of watching a particular film are less concrete than most other business transactions. Keller tells us (p 142) that in such cases “[all] the more important is the creative potential of the brand name and other brand elements to capture the intangible characteristics of the brand.”

Her look was attractively appealing so that movie goers would see her films three times instead of once (see Paris, 1994, p 119). Her Name and Slogan had drawing power from an association with pleasing films, and with a sense of mystery and romance. Her theme was a captivating expression of the balancing act between the traditional and the modern in those times.

Transferability is the ability of the image elements to support line and category extensions (see Keller, 2008, p 142). For Garbo, line extensions would be new films, her brand image elements applied to different roles. Rhodes (1999, p 191) notes that by the 1920's many had realized that the stars rather than the stories were selling the movies. He says that "This change often took the form of storylines that thematized the relationship between the new stars to the publics upon whom they depended for their success." Garbo, more than anyone before or since, established a lasting brand.

The drawing power of her brand elements in terms of Keller’s progressive criteria (2008, p 140) have been detailed in the sections on Memorability, Meaningfulness, and Likability. They apply as well to one film or role as to another because they are related to the actress, and as Keller notes (p 142) the less specific the element to a line item or a category item the more transferable it is.

Keller defines adaptability (p 143) as the ability of brand elements to change over time as consumer opinions and beliefs change or just to remain contemporary. This happened to Garbo as silent film gave way to talkies and the roaring twenties gave way to the great depression. The brand name Greta Garbo did not change but with the introduction of Anna Christie, her first talkie, a slogan for the movie was able to play off the old slogan. “Garbo Talks” was a humorous extension to the “Swedish Sphinx” and its alluring silence.

Her unassuming and minimalist style was changed slightly as well as its application to a theme, adapted for the changing communication medium and economic milieu. In Ninotchka and Grand Hotel, her performance became more ornamental in complexity, less minimal. One of them was a comedy. Additionally, more of her films reflected the gritty existence of the times and made less use of elegant fashion and more of plain clothing. There was also adaptation to historical dramas such as Queen Christina. The formula was also adapted so that governments in several instances replaced the older man in her iron triangle. The Swedish crown in Queen Christina and the Soviet government in Ninotchka are examples.

The 30s Greta Garbo was substantially the 20s Greta Garbo but with some adaptation of the brand elements, which proved to be very successful at that.

Keller categorizes two types of protection for brand elements: 1.) Legal; and 2.) Competitive. A personal name such as Greta Garbo can be trademarked especially when its unauthorized use is a bad faith attempt to mislead the public and misdirect trade and economic livelihood from a corporate body that has invested in that name for commercial purpose (see Trademarked and MirrorOfJustice).

Furthermore, all the brand elements have always, even today, proved competitively protectable. Her style and art have proven impossible to define precisely enough for anyone else to repeat her effect on screen. The iron triangle formula can be copied but her theme based on it cannot because that theme is the application of her style into the formula. The slogans applied to her would be empty today if applied to someone else, a cheap rip-off.

Gaines, Jane (1989). The Queen Christina Tie-Ups: Convergence of Show Window and Screen. Quar. Rev. of Film & Video. Retrieved on October 22, 2008 from EBSCOHOST.

Keller, K (2008). Strategic Brand Management. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Noir Dame (2008). Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) - Clara Bow, Marguerite Courtot. Retrieved on October 27, 2008 from

Rhodes, Chip (1999). The Star System and Modernist Identity Formation in the Silent Film Era. Strategies, Vol 12, Number 2. Retrieved from EBSCOHOST on October 27, 2008.

No comments: