Brand new moon?


While enjoying the recent supermoon (a relatively new term in astronomy), I found myself thinking about how perception can affect what we understand to be fact.

The so-called supermoon occurs when the moon is both full and at perigee, i.e. the point in its orbit where it is closest to Earth. In spite of the media hype, this happens on average between four and six times a year – not all that special after all.

This June’s full moon didn’t even occur exactly at perigee, so only appeared to be about 7% larger than usual – not the 14% touted by some overexcited media. While it was certainly visibly larger and brighter to experienced observers, many casual observers are much more likely to have noticed the always fascinating moon illusion. This magnification effect means the moon appears larger nearer the horizon than it does at its highest point. This illusion is familiar to almost everybody, but observers already on the look out for a supermoon naturally get very excited by its effect. It’s undoubtedly an impressive sight, but, to misquote Obi Wan Kenobi, this is not the supermoon they’re looking for.

So what does all this have to do with branding? Well, just as our preconceived notions about the moon affect how we see it, so a similar story is played out in marketing campaigns; sometimes our perception is driven by the brand, and sometimes it’s driven by our own assumptions.

A good example of the former is the Lincoln rebranding campaign. Originally an independent company, Lincoln was sold to Henry Ford in 1922, and ultimately became viewed as a “luxury” division within the Ford Motor Company. Having lost much of its brand standing over recent years, however, it decided to recast itself as The Lincoln Motor Company and tried to inject a bit more gravitas into the brand.

In the US, we regularly see commercials that hark back to Lincoln’s long history, with period imagery that transforms into modern forms. The Hello, Again website shows us new thinking and projects in art, architecture and technology, presented as a tribute to the concepts and thinking that motivated and continue to guide the new Lincoln brand. The idea is to align Lincoln with this re-imagined thinking and imply the emergence of a great new company.

Some observers, however, have asked where the substance behind the branding campaign is. Jonathan Baskin writes:

“Successful branding comes from experience, which means operational change is how brands get changed. Provide better services. Build new products. Improve customer service and pricing. Encourage happier, more productive employees. Only then does the new functionality of a business and/or its products and services deserve a new look. Branding is the narrative for this change, not a substitute.”

Our perceptions and the information we’re fed directly affect what we believe. We’re told the moon is closer and brighter, so the illusion we’re actually viewing must be the supermoon. We’re told that Lincoln is better, so it must be. But unless Lincoln applies its reimagined thinking across all of its processes – internal and external – and drives real, structural change within the company, its new image will be just as illusory as the “supermoon” many people thought they saw last month.

I will always love watching the moon, super or otherwise, but I’ll also be aware of how my preconceptions affect what I think I’m seeing.


  • Branding