POSTED BY: Pat Kinsley

To disrupt or not to disrupt? That is the question!

18th Apr, 2018

To disrupt or not to disrupt? That is the question!

When it comes to branding I have always asked the big question – the why? Why do certain brands act one way and others another? The obvious answer is that each and every brand is different – it’s their birth rite to stay true to themselves.

With that in mind, there’s no ignoring the fact that more and more brands have begun to try to “disrupt” – a term that’s very much on-trend at the moment. While for many it’s in line with their brand and its personality, for others it seems they may be simply jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it. Rather than disrupting for any real reason, they’re just making noise – crying out for attention in a crowded marketplace.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. What exactly do we mean when we talk about a “disruptive brand”? Well at the core of it, all brands are founded on a set of unique beliefs and values. And then they’ve all got their own personality that fits with this essence. Some brands are light hearted, some care solely for sustainability and others are elitist or high-brow. In that same sentiment, some brands are naturally disruptive but there are also others that are not.

A brand that is born disruptive is one that anticipates it will continue to be disruptive as it grows and extends. Think “Virgin” here. Way back when, Mr. Branson decided to make his mark in the global business world by giving his potential competitors the preverbal two fingers!

Did Richard do anything ground-breaking or bring anything really new to market? No, not really, he just brought a fresh approach. It all started with the brand name – Virgin. It was both very provocative and very before its time – disruption in itself.

And from there he took a disruptive approach to doing things that were already the norm. However, he did them that bit differently. Whether it was banking, rail or air travel he remained true to what he decided to do when he first set out. The brand was disruptive time and time again but because this was at the core of the brand, it always felt natural.

Along with Virgin, I can think of a number of similar brands that went against the grain in the aim of engaging with the consumer – brands like FCUK and more recently Egg Bank.

Before we move on let’s hear it from the man himself – what really is disruption?

“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.” – Richard Branson

Yes, now that’s a quote right from the mentors mouth but remember developing a disruptive brand out of thin air is impossible. Too often eager start-ups confuse innovation with disruption.

So yes, disruption can work and create real cut through in a market. For instance in more recent times, both Uber & Airbnb have totally disrupted their traditional categories. They’ve done this by thinking differently, thinking of their consumer and offering them freedom!

When I hear the word “freedom” I think of my most favourite brand. The brand that has always acted as my dangling carrot, the brand that is most definitely part of my retirement plans. The one, the only – oh yes it’s Harley Davidson. It’s a brand that stands tall and offers freedom from its very foundation to all of its fans.

Harley (well that’s Harley Davidson for non brand fans) has always defied the odds, stood strong against international competition and survived purely by staying true to the promise at its core. That is, except for one time…you see this one time they just decided to stray a little too far from the brand foundation. Someone sitting at the boardroom table thought that it would a “no brainer” to introduce perfume and aftershave that bared the iconic brand name and badge.

Well needless to say this didn’t work. I often wonder what kind of conversations go on behind brand owners’ doors. Do they think about what they already have? Do they think about how the consumers will feel? Do they forget that they are in control of an experience that connects with so many others?

A good brand is an honest brand. What works for one brand won’t necessarily work for another. It’s got to feel real and never forced – otherwise it will miss the mark. My words of advice – stay true to what you set out to do!


Pat Kinsley, Founder and Managing Director 

One of the original Brand Thinkers on this Island, Pat has spent the last 28 years extolling the virtues of branding as an essential commercial device that improves every company’s bottom-line. A native of New York City, he brought this passion to Dublin City and now it travels with him wherever he goes!