Barbershop Reggae – The Power of Brand Associations

By  Chris Ouma
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Recently, a friend shared a playlist he had named barbershop reggae. I must admit I at first didn’t get the name, but while listening to it, the ‘message’ laden lyrics of Joseph Hill and Israel Vibrations, the mellow voice of Gregory Isaacs and the hopeless romanticism of Glen Washington and sundry, it hit me, that “Oooh ndo Maana”! Moment that so eluded me during Accounting classes in my college days. While enjoying the playlist I had floated of into a reverie about my local barbershop complete with the massive speakers, the smell of methylated spirit and the perpetual football banter. This experience got me thinking about the power of Brand associations and how they can be effectively employed to build a business’ brand equity and enhance its overall competitiveness. Though I doubt Maish (my local barber) was consciously intent on building an association between the music he liked and his business. A link was inadvertently made by his customers myself included between his taste in music and his business. According to the Management Study Guide a Brand association is anything which is deep seated in customer’s mind about the brand. Aeker David gives a much broader definition describing brand associations as anything linked in memory to a brand, the strength of this link is much stronger when it is based on many experiences (my weekly shave) or exposures to communications. While it is plausible for brand associations to arise unintentionally as is usually the case with the almost ubiquitous reggae playlists at barbershops, they are more often than not carefully thought out and constructed by businesses to influence consumer perceptions as regards the brand. And while they may or may not reflect objective reality, they form the basis upon which a brand image is built. Take for example, a commercial with a character wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope around his neck, talking about bacteria and dirty hands, immediately has an air of competence and credibility, “He’s a doctor he must know what he’s talking about” you think to yourself. Take away the stethoscope and he might as well be a clean butcher. The underlying value of a brand is often based on its wealth of associations i.e. what it means to the consumer. Brand associations effectively crafted are a source of value to businesses in a variety of ways

Help Process/ Retrieve information

Brand associations are an effective means through which businesses can summarize and chunk a set of facts and specifications that would otherwise be difficult for the customer to access and process and expensive for the firm to communicate piecemeal. Further associations can also influence the interpretation of facts take for example the Faiba ads while the price of the internet bundles may not be as pocket friendly (just my opinion) you can’t help but like the funny Kamba accented cartoon and his shenanigans, the feelings generated towards the cartoon become instinctively linked to the company and suddenly the prices don’t seem so bad, maybe even reasonable. Associations also influence the recall of information, still on the Faiba adverts, while other organizations may make use of a similar concept in developing marketing campaigns the audience can’t help but point out “kama ile ya Faiba” and in so doing, always recall Faiba. This, I believe played a role in Safaricom shelving the Mazgwembe character.


An association can provide an important basis for differentiation. In some product classes such as wines, perfumes and clothes, the brands are not distinguishable by most customers. Take for example your average Joe, with valentines coming up and intent on buying his significant other a bottle of perfume for that special day. Not being a perfume connoisseur his purchase decision will have to depend on other information points, while browsing through the shelves the different bottles all look the same, they all, according to him smell nice. Unable to decide, “Good Guy Marketer” comes to the rescue, with an elaborately designed package featuring a sensual image of Beyoncé and our average Joe makes a choice, remembering how his “madam” loves Beyoncé. A long story short, a carefully selected and constructed association can provide an important basis for differentiation in a sea of very similar products. Further, effectively developed the association can be a key competitive advantage.

Reason to Buy

Many brand associations involve product attributes or customer benefits that provide a specific reason to buy and use the brand. They represent a basis for purchase decisions and brand loyalty. Take the guys behind Sensodyne, faced with the problem of curving out a market for themselves in an insanely competitive market with long established brands like Colgate, Aquafresh etc. they chose a very specific customer benefit (sensitive teeth) and ran with it, they even made the paste taste like shit (excuse the language) going completely against the grain in the toothpaste market and building on the long established (since childhood) mental link that medicine never tastes good but it gets the job done.

Create Positive Attitudes/Feelings

Some associations are liked and stimulate positive feelings that get transferred to the brand e.g. well liked characters, the association and their companion feelings are extended to the brand. To build positive feelings and attitudes towards their beer brands EABL’s “Twende Game” campaign effectively leveraged all the pomp and fanfare that goes with attending sporting events, the almost religious loyalty fans have towards their specific teams and the sense of fun, excitement and enjoyment usually associated with game days. Old Mutual, like most other organizations in the financial services sector, struggle with the image of a large, cold and impersonal organization. Enter Kansiime, her funny character serves soften the organization in the customer’s mind.

Basis for Extensions

An association can provide the basis for an extension by creating a sense of fit between the brand name and a new product or by providing a reason to buy the extension. Rolls Royce provides a wonderful case in point. Renowned for the manufacture of top of the range jet engines used by both Airbus and Boeing the world’s leading airplane manufacturers, they successfully extended the existing brand’s associations to the line of Luxury Motor vehicles. Closer home, Churchill Raw and the Kids Festival are excellent examples of extending a brands associations i.e. Churchill Show.


Brand associations represent a valuable resource for business organizations, they form the basis upon which the brand image and ultimately brand equity is developed. It is important at this point to point out that the applicability and hence value of brand associations is not the preserve of large corporations with massive marketing departments, associations can effectively be developed by firms regardless of size or industry. While the associations developed may vary depending on a wide range of factors they should all drive towards generating positive feelings, attitudes and general disposition from the customers towards the brand. Maish through his playlist (intended or unintended notwithstanding) had built a certain ambience and mood around his establishment that had come to be linked, in his clientele’s mind to the service he provided. I cannot objectively say whether my friend’s playlist was that good or I just needed a shave, suffice to say that evening after work, I dropped by at Maish’s for a relaxing shave, football banter and some great barbershop reggae.