One of the most important strategies that brands use to create desire is to erect “gates;” barriers that its customers must pass through in order to gain access to its products or services. In the past, these gates were things that required “traditional status” in order to pass. For example, your birth or the family that you were born into has long been a gate for admission to Oxbridge which in turn is a gate for a job at places like the BBC. Wealth is a gate for many brands whose products are simply out of reach for regular people. Other traditional gates are your social circle, which ASW plays upon, your taste or discernment and your intelligence (Mensa).
By and large, traditional gates are things that you can’t change. They’re things that you either have or you don’t, they can’t be earned or achieved very easily, and therefore don’t require effort or achievement on your part.
However, the gates of today are quite different. These tend to be things that almost anyone can acquire and achieve, as long as you’re prepared to put in the effort. H&M has a gate of physical fitness. It’s extremely hard to wear their clothes if you aren’t slim. Video games have gates of dexterity. ATI, the video card manufacturer, has created (possibly unwittingly) a gate of knowledge through having a completely incomprehensible numbering system for its various models, and web companies often create gates of skill through closed betas available only to power users.
I think there are a couple of interesting themes here for me. The first is that our collective fascination with all things social and digital, generally leads us towards advocating open systems and open brands. We try to make our brands as transparent and accessible as possible, yet by doing so we could actually be damaging their overall appeal.
The second is that the democratization of gates feels like an area ripe for creativity. Because a gate has the dual role of keeping you out as well as keeping you in, gates that require effort but which are symbols of achievement can be very powerful. (The Boston Marathon is a great example of a brand that has a gate that operates this way.) Erecting gates that enable people to accomplish things that they never thought possible could be an extremely powerful strategy for some brands.
Adrian is founding partner of Zeus Jones a branding company believing actions speak louder than words and that modern brands are defined by what they do not what they say. He speaks (and writes) regularly about non-communications based models for marketing & branding. @adrianho