brand perceptions

Consumers see brands as belonging to categories based on their own perception and life experience. Once consumers pigeonhole a brand, it is hard for the brand to easily change that category perception. For example, Kodak was THE brand name for film photography. It was also the company that invented the digital camera. But, it did not succeed in becoming a brand in digital photography. In contrast, Sony and Panasonic -who we perceive as digital brands- succeeded in getting brand recognition in the digital photography category.


This pigeonhole theory is understood anecdotally, but with the rise of social media as an important channel for consumer conversation, we can back this phenomenon with numbers using text analytics to comb through large unstructured data.

To illustrate this theory, we collected all comments and posts mentioning four skincare brands (Aveeno, Neutrogena, L’Oreal, and Olay) across major public social forums from Oct. 2014 to Oct. 2016. We found there are one or two dominant different categories where consumers perceive each brand “belongs”, although all brands have product line in categories like Sun protection and Anti-aging.



In consumers’ social minds, Aveeno “belongs” in Baby Eczema Care category. In 2001, Aveeno successfully expanded into baby skincare with Aveeno Baby. My family is a loyal user of Aveeno baby care products. But there are much fewer conversations about Aveeno’s subsequent launches;  in 2007, Aveeno Anti-Aging was introduced and Jennifer Aniston became the spokes model in 2013. It also launched into sun protection category as its soothing effect is great for sunburn. Still years later, categories like Sun Protection and Anti-Aging have no mention in consumers’ social conversation.




Neutrogena “belongs” in Acne Treatment, Cleanse and Sun Protection categories based upon the conversations consumers are having. Neutrogena originated from a mild clear soap that cleaned the skin without drying it, and  later launched into categories such as like Sun Protection leveraging its oil-free brand image. Acne or rashes are often the side effect of sunscreen. Neutrogena sunscreen, being oil-free like their original product line makes these undesirable side effects less likely to occur. It was a success. However, their later launched Anti-Aging category generates less buzz online – perhaps because it’s more of a stretch from where they started.



L’Oreal is a French cosmetic company who also has skin care, Sun Protection, and Anti-Aging lines. With their famous slogan “Because I’m worth it”, it is not surprising that social conversations mentioning L’Oreal still concentrate around Makeup, especially Eye Makeup.





Olay is the only brand out of four brands “belonging” in Anti-Aging category on consumers’ social mind. From early on, it used print copy such as “Share the secret of a younger looking you”. Olay extended their moisturizing and stay looking young into becoming the master brand in Anti-Aging category.


So, what should a brand do if it wants to conquer another category?

Consumer perceived brand category belonging is not just anecdotal. It can be observed and backed by analysis of consumers’ social conversations, and simply launching a product line in a different category does not change consumer perceived category.  If the original formula provides a solution to another category’s problem like oil-free sunscreen solves the side-effects for sunscreen, the brand can succeed entering the category with the same brand name. Otherwise, it is perhaps better done with a different brand name.

Ipsos has long had expertise in understanding brands and categories trough traditional market research data. But with the rise of social data at our fingertips, we’re excited to bring new thinking and new techniques like text analytics and mental network analysis to our clients to gain better understanding.