Are So-Called “Paradox Brands” Really That, Or Just Multi-Faceted?

by | Oct 19, 2022 | Branding, Insights, Marketing

Some authors have started using the phrase “Paradox Brands” to denote brands that seemingly have contradictory attributes (e.g., Land Rover, which is perceived as both “rugged” and “sophisticated”). In one such study, the authors investigated whether multicultural consumers had a greater affinity for “Paradox Brands” due to the higher “cognitive flexibility” of people with more than one cultural identity. The term has since been picked up by other authors.

Before the term gains too much more traction, it’s worth asking whether these brands really are paradoxical, or whether the term is just hyperbole.

Let’s start with the definition of paradox. According to the dictionary definition (Courtesy of Merriam-Webster):

Definition of paradox

1: One (such as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases

2  a: A statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

b: A self-contradictory statement that at first seems true

c: An argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises

3:tenet contrary to received opinion

According to this definition, it seems we should be asking whether attributes of brands like “rugged” and “sophisticated” for Land Rover, or “traditional” and “trendy” for Burberry are contradictory, or just multifactorial attributes of otherwise cohesive brands.

A good first place to start is to see if there are other brands that share the same attributes. If multiple brands can share these attributes, then they might not be so paradoxical. What are some other brands that are both rugged and sophisticated? How about Arc’teryx in outerwear? Rolex in watches? Bosch in tools and equipment? Also, Rolls Royce offers an SUV which is both rugged and sophisticated at the same time.

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What about other attributes that might similarly be claimed to be paradoxical, like “sporty” and “luxurious”? Well, there are brands aplenty for these attributes, too. Consider Porsche and Bentley in automobiles, L’Etoile Sport for sportswear, Audemars Piguet in watches and Tommy Bahama for streetwear.

To me, these few examples suffice in demonstrating that a term like “Paradox Brands” is not needed to describe brands that share attributes that stretch across multiple dimensions. Far from being a simple argument about semantics, the label of “paradox” implies a disconnect or dissociation that is counterproductive in the field of branding. Multidimensional brands are just that. The use of a label like “paradox” implies a judgment that demands cognitive evaluation that seems neither in the consumer’s nor the brand owner’s interest. Just like I can’t see a realtor, buyer or seller labeling a “grand but intimate” house a “paradox house”.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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