Thanos — A lesson in Brand Building

Vignesh Arullingam
Aug 16, 2020 · 9 min read

A dive into how the Mad Titan of the MCU is a brand in himself and how one can build a brand by following his example.

A gauntlet with the Infinity Stones of Branding

How MCU pulled it off

How do you convince millions of fans across the world that the ultimate villain you hope to give them is indeed the ultimate villain — the perfect match for the all-powerful Avengers?

How do you convince that the ultimate villain is indeed superior to villains as charismatic as Loki and as persuasive as Eric Killmonger?

The answer is not simple but the MCU has found its way out of the soup. The MCU, in its attempt to create Thanos, did what successful businesses do to thrive in the market. It created a BRAND.

You heard it right. That’s what MCU did with Thanos. They created a brand and sold it to us as the ultimate villain and it worked!

This article is all about how Thanos is a brand and what one can learn about building a brand from him.

But I ask you to what end? What’s the point of branding?

  1. It makes an enterprise stand out in the market like an island rising out of a sea of similarity. Eg. In the sea of sodas, only two islands rise above the sea level — Coke and Pepsi.
  2. It makes an enterprise associated with certain ideas/adjectives in a user’s mind over a while. For example, Apple is associated with innovative, futuristic, exclusive etc

The first five stones help an aspiring brand fulfil the first condition while the sixth stone fulfils the second condition. Let’s take a look at them using the Mad Titan as an analogy.

The Six Infinity Stones of Brand Building

  1. Vision and Values aka Soul
  2. Mission aka mind
  3. Positioning and Brand Identity aka Space
  4. Unique Selling Point aka Power
  5. Consistency aka Time

1. Problem statement aka Reality

To make it very simple let’s say a problem statement is just a rant about how bad the status quo or the reality is and about all the catastrophes that may befall everyone if that reality is not challenged.

How does it build a brand?

A problem statement is a description of your one true enemy -an aspect of reality that you aim to change. Like it or not your enemy defines you. Choosing a problem statement is the first step of building a brand as this automatically makes you fight for a cause while others just fight for a market share. Don’t get me wrong, you will fight for the market share too but it won’t be your ultimate aim.

Thanos’ Problem Statement

“The universe is finite. Its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.”

This statement reveals that he is not someone who has a problem with any individual hero of the MCU. He has a problem with the entire universe and he wants to fight it out. Just because the avengers are on his way he would fight them too. The problem statement starts the process of putting The Mad Titan in a different league from every other villain of both the MCU and any other franchise for that matter.

Conditions it must fulfil

Even though coming up with a problem statement may seem easy it ain’t and it can’t be taught in a single blog. Anyway, here are two conditions a problem statement must satisfy to become a problem statement

  1. Reality — It must exist in reality, and it can’t be contested by anyone. The possible solutions can be contested but the problem itself can’t be contested. The Mad Titan’s example — The universe is finite. Its resources, finite.
  2. Consequences — Every problem statement must talk about the consequences of not addressing the problem. The Mad Titan’s example — If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.

2. Vision and Values aka Soul

Vision

It is not the useless robot made of Vibranium that made us lose the Infinity War. It is a statement that describes the alternative you offer to the reality — A utopian paradise in your mind. Vision is the exact opposite of reality.

How does it build a brand?

While the problem statement is your ultimate enemy, the Vision is your eternal love- something that’s worth everything — simply put Vision is your vision. Vision gives your direction, a direction to work upon. It closes the loop and sets up your frontier. You know where you start and you know where you end.

You are not only discussing a problem you are offering a way out, no matter how farfetched it may sound, and this helps people take you seriously. You are no more yet another enterprise that whines about the current order but you are a serious business set out to overturn the current order.

Thanos’ Vision

“Bring balance to the universe to create a paradise where children born know nothing but full bellies and clear skies.”

Except for a handful of villains every other MCU villain has no long term vision. This factor alone helps Thanos make an enduring mark in the minds of both the avengers and the fans alike.

Conditions it must fulfil

It has only one condition — It must be laughable. It must be so incredible that people initially take it for a joke. The Mad Titan’s vision is a paragon when it comes to satisfying this condition.

Values

If the status quo is a place you intend to leave and vision is your destination then your values make up the robust vehicle that you choose for the journey.

How does it create a brand?

The values we choose to reach our ends will define us. It is equally true for a brand. How your business achieved something makes a stronger mark than what you achieved. And your values construct this ‘How’. Also, values help your brand keep going even when the ride turns bumpy.

Thanos’ Values

Greatest villains are always the ones with some deeply entrenched values. Thanos is arguably the best villain in this regard. Thanos had the following values that made him more than just any other villain

  1. Honesty — The Mad Titan never lies
  2. Objective — Many may call it Ruthlessness.
  3. Inclusive — Seriously, take a look at his children

Conditions it must fulfil

Every value must truly be your own value ( must come from within). Don’t just imitate what’s in fad. Values copied will never survive the journey.

3. Mission aka The Mind

What is it?

Mission is what you get when you try to break down your utopian vision into quantifiable targets. Mission is the immediate goal of your brand unlike a vision statement, it is not utopian.

How does it make a brand?

If vision is the destination and values the vehicle that will carry you to the destination then mission is the path you choose to reach the destination. It is the entity that actually gets you close to your vision by paving the direction. It helps you move toward your vision mile by mile. Without a sensible mission statement (tangible immediate goal), the vision will stay a pipe dream and the value vehicle will not leave the curb and consequently, the brand will be killed in the crib.

Thanos’ Mission

Get hold of six infinity stones and wipe out half of all living creatures with a single snap.

Condition it must fulfil

It must be quantifiable. Take a look at his mission. It is full of metrics ( 6 stones, 1 snap, 1/2 the population) and thus quantifiable to the core.

Also, you can change it as you see fit

The interesting thing about the Mission is it can be changed once it is achieved/failed or when a more favourable mission (alternate route) is discovered. Also, remember that a failed mission doesn’t mean failure as long as your values remain intact. You can always find another way or Mission.

The following are our in-house examples of businesses that built better brands by deriving their Problem Statements, Visions and Values and Missions.

a) Wharfedale Technologies

b) iDEX — Innovation for Defence Excellence

c) Comfort Engineers

Anyway, back to the stones…..

4. Unique selling point aka Power

How does it make a brand?

Because it strikes at the heart of the whole exercise of standing out with a single word/phrase or sentence

Thanos’ USP

“Strongest will”

He claims to be the only one to have the will to carry out a universal genocide

Condition it must fulfil

It must be true. Thanos was indeed the only one who had the will to kill trillions. His would stand the test of fire in Vormir.

5. Space aka positioning

This is the element that helps you create a space within the customers’ mind by letting them know what your brand is and what it is not. The position is a product of combining the first four elements with another sub-element called Brand Personality. It is nothing but an attempt to give human attributes to your brand. (Voice, Tone, etc.)

How does it make a brand?

Once you create a space in your customers’ minds it is going to carve out a permanent space in the market as well, provided you are not killed off prematurely by a disruption.

Thanos’ Positioning

He comes across as a veteran of thousand battles operating on a universal scale while other major villains fail to occupy this position. His veteran position is derived from his Voice (Brand Voice) which is can be described as being well-versed, condescending and philosophical in nature.

The position of Thano in the MCU shown through a graph

Conditions it must fulfil

Your position has to be a vacuum that can be filled only by you.

6. Consistency aka Time

Why is it important?

Just like the soul stone of the MCU, Time stone holds a special place in the universe of branding. Because without this element the whole exercise will remain incomplete. This is the element that seals the brand.

Thanos’ consistency

He took his time but did what he set out to do. Every effort of Thanos was towards living up to the standards set by his other brand elements.

Condition it must fulfil

It must be consistent. Duh!

That’s all folks! We have reached the Endgame of the blog!

And that’s how the MCU created a brand and sold it to us as Thanos.

Summary

  1. Every brand must fulfil 2 conditions — It must make you stand out and it must make your business get associated with ideas and words that reflect what you stand for.
  2. This can be achieved by having the following six elements in your brand — Problem statement aka Reality, Vision and Values aka Soul, Mission aka Mind, Unique Selling Point aka Power, Positioning aka Space and Consistency aka Time.

To end this blog with a cinematic exaggeration let me say “With these six elements in your grasp, you can wipe out half your marketing efforts with a snap.”

This article is an effort to simplify branding using a pop culture icon. If you find any misplaced interpretations let me know and help me make this better.

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And btw, we are Frozen Iris, an Indian Branding agency that helps brands scale through the first principles of design.

Thanos will return!

frozeniris

A strategic design practice helping brands scale through the first principles in design.

frozeniris

Holistic. Sustainable. These are the words we live by while designing. Our designs stand on the firm ground of empathy and aesthetics and our user-centric approach leads to experiences that are visceral. When our design meets your vision, it is a match made.

Vignesh Arullingam

Written by

Content Writer, Frozen Iris.

frozeniris

Holistic. Sustainable. These are the words we live by while designing. Our designs stand on the firm ground of empathy and aesthetics and our user-centric approach leads to experiences that are visceral. When our design meets your vision, it is a match made.