The Hunger Games: A battle of the brands

The first movie adaptation of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins came out a little over 5 months ago, but I have put off watching it until now. I have read the books previously and I just wasn’t ready to let go of the image I had in my head to what competed (pun intended) on screen.

For those of you who have not seen this movie, it’s a gripping story set in an undefined period of time (Perhaps a statement about our future?) where there are 12 districts, each with a group of people with a specialized skill that exports a specific natural resource, such as fish or coal, to The Capitol. These districts were established after the people rose up against The Capitol (the richest and most well-to-do) and were subsequently defeated and restricted to these districts depending on how close they were to The Capitol (one being closest and 12 being the furthest away). To show tribute and how benevolent The Capitol was towards the districts (read: to keep keep everyone terrified from ever revolting against the government again), they hold The Hunger Games each year, televised to all the districts in real time. A boy and girl tribute from each district is offered up to compete, to the death. There can only be one winner. May the odds ever be in your favor.

While this book has many political undertones and at times isn’t as outlandish of a leap as it seems (Some of the events and actions sound eerily familiar to our current government), it is the intense branding that occurs for each set of tributes that really got my attention. Admittedly, when I was reading the books my branding strategy and graphic designer spidey senses were tingling, but I was so wrapped up in the story, I ignored them. But with watching the movie, since I already knew what was going to happen, I could focus more on the details.

As designers and marketing folk, we know that developing a brand is no easy task. There are a lot of factors to take into account, but there are some oldies, but goodies to always keep in mind: Know your product, know your audience, create a story, keep interest high, and be consistent. Most people would probably think that only products or technologies are branded in today’s market. While the world may have the most interaction with product branding, branding also occurs for people. Think about any of your favorite athletes, musicians, or politicians. Certain words or actions probably come to mind when their name is uttered. Those same words also probably come up for everyone else who thinks about them too. They have created an “image” aka brand for themselves. The Hunger Games makes good use of creating an “image” for each team of tributes.

If we had to break this down, Katniss and Peeta are products that are launching to the public (The Hunger Games). Haymitch, the always inebriated, disheveled, and previous winner from The Hunger Games is the branding strategist (mentor). He certainly knows his audience, The Capitol members, who love a good story as much as a good kill. They’re flashy, over the top, but with money to burn. But convincing this audience to act as sponsors (read: buy the product) is the difference between life and death. Tributes from other districts are branded as “Professional Tributes” or as sweet and adorable, in the case of Glimmer from District 1 (She’s actually a sadistic girl that laughs as she kills other tributes. Ugh).

Haymitch Abernathy

The Capitol People

While Peeta understands how to play the game (of branding), Katniss really struggles with being branded. Haymitch tells them that they need to be gracious, pleasant and to sell a good story. After their mentoring (aka branding) from Haymitch they are ready to face their audience. Basically the product is launching to the public. To garner interest, Peeta and Haymitch create a story that Peeta and Katniss are star struck lovers doomed by The Hunger Games. Haymitch even goes so far as to say, “I can sell forlorn lovers.” Ever the seemingly sleazy ad man.

The next part of a good brand is keeping interest high with your audience. If you don’t give them anything to pay attention to, they’ll just move on to the next interesting brand. This is best shown while The Hunger Games are in full swing. While Katniss is slow to play the part of forlorn lover, she slowly starts to see that to survive she has to sell her and Peeta’s brand to the sponsors. Get them to believe in the story they’re telling. She helps heighten the story by giving several PG kisses, snuggling in a cave and risking her life to save Peeta’s. Peeta held up his side of the brand by telling the audience/Katniss how long he had loved her, even back when they were in District 12. The Capitol ate it up with their expensive silver spoons.

The being consistent part of their brand really comes in Book 2 and 3. So we will see if the brand of Katniss and Peeta as forlorn lovers who survived stays true or if they end up needing a rebrand (I’m not giving the ending away!). Either way, the proverbial wool wasn’t pulled over this designer’s eyes! Sneaky branding!