What Breaking Bad Taught Us About Branding

Last week, we wrote a blog about hotel SEO and how to improve your hotel’s online marketing strategy. This week, we’re taking things in a completely different direction as we write about branding and popular culture. Things are going to be a little strange around here until our new blog plan rolls out! Anyway, let’s talk about everyone’s favourite TV show, Breaking Bad.

Let’s put it out there: I’m a huge Breaking Bad fan. I loved the show while it was on and I still love it now. Something about it really hooked me in and kept me going until Walt’s final breath. *Spoiler Alert* Probably a little late, but hey, if you don’t know what happens at the end of Breaking Bad, why are you reading this article? Go see the show, then come back and we can talk about what happened.

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Okay, are we all on the same page? If you’ve seen the show, then read on. If you haven’t, I urge you to stop reading and come back after you’ve binge watched all 5 seasons on Netflix.

So, what can Breaking Bad, a show about drugs, crime, and family feuds, teach us about branding? As it happens, an awful lot. There are lessons throughout the show regarding physical branding, personal branding, brand progression, brand image, slogans, buying into brands and more.

Branding Blue Sky

One of the key features of Breaking Bad is the drug that Walter White/Heisenberg creates. He creates a chemically pure crystal methamphetamine that is named Blue Sky. But what does this teach us about branding?

Firstly, he’s taken a regular product and added a spin on it. Sure, that may have been accidental, but his meth is blue. That’s unique. Drug baron Tuco, Walter and Jesse Pinkman have a conversation based around the colour, Tuco is confused, Jesse reassures him that “it’s the bomb.” So, the product looks unique and that’s a great way to separate your brand from the others.

Breaking-Bad-Blue-Sky-Drug

Tying your product to a visual identifier can really help grow your brand recognition. In Breaking Bad, the visual identifier is the colour of the drug. With Nike, the tick logo mark is ever present across their range of sportswear. Adidas are renowned for placing their famous three stripes across their clothing range. Can you tie your product(s) to a core visual? For Breaking Bad, tying the drug to a colour has produced a range of candy and bath products.

Secondly, the product is good. As mentioned, seasoned drug user Jesse says that Crystal Blue is “the bomb.” If you have a terrible product, no amount of marketing will save it. You can throw piles of money into advertising and marketing resources, but, if your product is rubbish or isn’t needed, then, it will quite likely fail. However, if you create an amazing product and have something everybody wants, you create a need, a want, a desire, and that can lead to great success.

That leads us on quite nicely to: identifying a niche. Early in Breaking Bad, Walter inadvertently creates a niche product that people are desperate to get hold of. His precision, chemistry skills and perfectionism leads him to creating Blue Sky. The drug created by Walt is described as the best on the market, with all sorts of drug users, abusers and barons clambering to get a sample.

Finding a niche can be difficult. There are lots of great websites out there that teach niche marketing and making passive income through niche business ideas, but, Walt stumbles on one and with the help of former student Jesse, manages to create a need for his product. When supplies are shown running short later into the series, things start getting crazy and the characters of the show become obsessed. Whilst this is a common side effect of drug abuse, it could also be argued that Walt and Jesse have created a niche product and forced their way into the minds of their users. They don’t want any old drug now, they want the good stuff, they want Blue Sky.

Distribution-Network

The last thing we can learn from the Blue Sky drug is how a distribution network can help improve your brand. This is touching on brand experience. If you order from Amazon and it comes within 1-3 working days, I think it’s safe to say your brand satisfaction level will be up. Next time, if the same product takes 7-10 working days to arrive, you might not have the same opinion of the company that you held previously. Walt and Jesse work hard to maintain their distribution network and quality of their product, trying to give each and every customer 100% brand satisfaction.

Becoming Heisenberg

The nature of the show is dark and as we know, our loveable chemistry teacher, Mr Walter White, transforms into a hardened criminal mastermind, Hesienberg. Whilst the progression in the show is negative, and I would never encourage anybody to take up drug manufacturing and crime as a career path, it’s very interesting to study how the Heisenberg brand progresses.

At the beginning of the first season, we’re introduced to Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher hat finds out he has stage 3 lung cancer. Consciously, and to help his family, Mr White decides to start manufacturing drugs.

Pairing with an old student, Jesse Pinkman, Walt becomes a meth cook and together they begin shipping their product Blue Sky. When a deal with a drug distributor Krazy 8 goes sour Walt first tries bargaining for his life by disclosing the recipe for Blue Sky to him. When this doesn’t work, and Walt manages to escape, Walt gasses his assailants and drives away in his RV. Some would argue this is self defence. Krazy 8 survives and is later taken hostage by Walt and Jesse. On the flip of a coin, Walt is tasked with killing Krazy 8, a prospect that makes him sick. He writes a moral checklist, showing at this point in the series, a conscious is still in check.

Krazy 8 manages to escape and Walt realises that he’s going to attempt to kill him. Leaving Walt no choice, he suffocates Krazy 8 with a bike lock, the first truly heinous act of Walt’s downward spiral and some might argue, the kick that sends Walt down the rabbit hole.

Losing his hair, Walt becomes progressively more aggressive, as does his cancer. By the end of series one, and now completely bald, Walt is beginning to accept his secret lifestyle and has progressed from murder to blowing up the top floors of buildings. The progression of Walt through to Heisenberg is truly underway.

heisenberg-breaking-bad

Without detailing the plot of all 5 series of Breaking Bad, Walt transforms himself into crime overlord Heisenberg. At first, acts that sicken Walt take place sporadically, showing a gradual downward spiral. When he finally comes to terms with himself as Heisenberg, crime seemingly becomes second nature to him and he lets nothing stand in his way. He realises, that each horrible crime is strengthening the Heisenberg brand.

Walt/Heisenberg tells his wife Skylar “I am the one who knocks.” Meaning he is the crime boss. The person she should be scared of his him. He’s the biggest fish in the pond. He reaches his peak as a crime boss through a lot of hard work and personal branding. And whilst yes, we are talking about the criminal underworld, he makes decisions, albeit cold and calculated, that strengthen the Heisenberg brand and position him as a brand leader.

The Heisenberg Look

Again, a visual tie is used to strengthen the Heisenberg brand. Dark sunglasses, goatee and hat make up Heisenberg’s physical appearance. This look is illustrated throughout the series by a number of characters. One character is asked to draw the crime lord, and that is all they can remember.

Heisenberg-Breaking-Bad-Tshirt

The Heisenberg look is something that a number of companies have capitalised on since the release of the series. The hat manufacturer Goorin Brothers released a limited edition Heisenberg hat. High street stores such as Primark are selling t-shirts printed with illustrated versions of Heisenberg’s face. Tshirt sites like Qwertee and Teefury are shifting Breaking Bad t-shirts by the barrel load. I own one. People know what it is when I wear it. That’s a great success considering Breaking Bad is a TV show not a clothes manufacturer.

Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad team worked hard to build the visual style of Walter White’s alter ego and it’s something that has paid off massively for them in the long run. When you ask somebody to think of Breaking Bad, Heisenberg’s hat and glasses combo is normally one of the first things that they think about. Visual identifiers work, both within the context of Breaking Bad and out in the real world.

Building Your Empire

The drug operation in Breaking Bad starts out small scale. They’re making drugs out the back of their RV and selling it to a few people here and there. As the series progresses though, so does the drug empire. At first, Jesse is living a modest lifestyle. Come the end of the series he’s living in a huge mansion, throwing house parties and driving sports cars.

Walter White shows great persistence in building his empire. There are numerous fallouts and setbacks but he gives it his all, and that’s a great way to get on in business. Don’t go in with half of your chips. Put in everything you have and give it your best shot. Small business owners and startups are required to work an awful lot of hours.

walter-white-money

As shown in Breaking Bad, persistence and hard work pays off. Come the end of the series, Walt gives a lot of his fortune away and still leaves a substantial fortune for his family to inherit. There is no shortcut for getting to the top. Hard work and persistence will always win out.

To build your business empire, it’s best to set out your goals from the beginning. Figure out what Plan A is and strive to achieve it. As you go, either knock obstacles down or embrace them and learn to live with them. Whatever Plan A is, work hard at it and take progressive action. Plan B is a substitute for what you really want, so give everything you’ve got to make Plan A a roaring success.

Get a Base and Make it Your Own

Naturally, Walt and Jesse opt not to cook crystal meth from either of their homes. This leads Walt to make a big decision. He takes his life savings of $7000 and tells Jesse to purchase a camper. With Walt going “all in” it’s imperative for him to succeed. This is his Plan A, he doesn’t have a Plan B.

Breaking-Bad-RV-in-Desert
Whilst the RV is nothing spectacular, in fact, it looks like it would barely move, they manage to start a successful business off the back of it. Driving out into the middle of the desert, and parading around in his tight white underpants, Walter White makes that RV his own. Gutting areas and repurposing the RV as a meth lab, you would have to call the RV the headquarters of Walt and Jesse’s operation.

Now, whether you’re working out of a coffee shop, half of your kitchen table, a home built office or something more permanent, you need to get a base and make it your own. Canny started with me working from a breakfast bar on an old beat-up Apple Macbook, not even the Pro version. From there, I progressed into an early rendition of a home office (a spare bedroom with a bit of space.)

As the business grew, the office space grew and in 2015 we’ll be moving into our first premises. One of the best things about having an exclusive office space, is that at the end of your working day, you can come out and shut the door. You can forget about work for the day and spend valuable time with your loved ones, or relax however you see fit. Recharging your batteries fully from time to time can be key to helping your business succeed.

Slogans Can Work

Breaking Bad features a lot of businesses, businessmen and business opportunities. My personal favourite? Saul Goodman.

Why? There’s so much to love about him. “Better Call Saul” is his catchphrase and slogan and the way he uses it throughout the series is fantastic. Encouraging miscreants from far and wide to call him if they’re in trouble, Saul is as corrupt as they come, but that slogan really helps him stand out from the crowd. “Better Call Saul” is catchy and Mr Goodman has his own TV show due out in spring 2015.

“Have an A1 Day” is another slogan that’s heard throughout Breaking Bad. Each and every customer that comes through the door of Walt’s car wash, “Have an A1 Day.” A slogan can help reinforce your brand, and whilst it certainly isn’t a requirement, getting your slogan right can positively reinforce your businesses core values and beliefs.

There are lots of things to discuss about Breaking Bad and we’ve only touched on a few of them here. Walter White is a very complex character and his alter ego Heisenberg makes for a great character study. If you want to talk more about Breaking Bad or share your thoughts on some of the brand ideas featured in the series, do leave us a comment below.

2 Responses

    1. Tony Hardy

      Thanks Marianne. To be honest, it was great to write about one of our favourite shows combined with one of our favourite things. The two went together really well so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to write a fun post!

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