Distinctive Brand Assets

Distinctive Brand Assets

Distinctive Brand Assets (or brand codes) are learned associations that help us to notice, recognise, remember and think of a brand. Originally defined by Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute as ‘the nonbrand name elements that trigger the brand into the memory of category buyers ’. They are the non-verbal cues of a brand which include colours, logos, icons, characters, packs, patterns, shapes or audio devices.

Amazon Brand Code
Geico Gecko v4
Mastercard Brand Asset

Distinctive Brand Assets or DBAs (also known as brand codes) have come to the fore as a critical component in marketing effectiveness, with huge credit due to experts such as Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute in breaking down the marketing science behind the topic in the seminal book  “Building Distinctive Brand Assets”. Now at the forefront of marketing science and effectiveness, it is time to start evaluating and tracking your DBAs. (See more here on Distinctive Brand Asset research and tracking)

Why are Distinctive Brand Assets important?

Stand Up in Comms

The first job of advertising is to be noticed, the second job is for them to know it’s you, something we seem to have forgot. DBAs help improve the effectiveness of your creative & communications by increasing the chances a consumer will recognise your advert, recall it and consign to memory. A diverse range of assets also helps encode ads in consumer’s brains, something a brand name just won’t do on its own. And it’s not not a case of mentioning the brand several times. A Kantar Link copy test study1 showed no correlation between branding scores and the number of times the brand was mentioned. Without plastering your logo everywhere (which itself is often a blindspot), DBAs improve media efficiency & creative effectiveness. A recent IPSOS study2 showed uplifts of 34% where DBAs were embedded & used. Meanwhile an Ebiquity study saw that brands with DBAs of note gain a 62% higher ROI then the average campaign3. Ultimately, better branding of your communications will improve the salience of your brand.

Golden Arches DBA
Omnichannel DBA
Stand Together

They help connect disparate marketing activities consciously or subconsciously. Done well, they bridge the long & short across all touch points and at all times. You know that lovely ad slogan or tagline you spent months crafting with your agency as part of an integrated campaign? Very few consumers will likely recognise it never mind recall it. Put this to the test, what is the slogan of the last product or service you purchased? Unless it was a behemoth the likes of a Nike or McDonalds (or your own brand), can you recall it? An ad slogan alone will often not help tie together all your channels as part of a 360 campaign, it requires the collective effort of your DBAs to connect the dots for busy consumers who come across thousands of brand messages a day.

Stand Out Physically

With 30,000+ items in an average supermarket, standing out has never been more important on-shelf or online. DBAs improve how easily your brand is found making your brand more likely to be bought. On a packed shelf, distinctive assets help brands stand out through the clutter. Think of the way a distinctive pack & product such as Kikkoman Soy sauce draws your eye and you almost subconsciously add it to your basket. Or why a familiar cereal pack owns part of the fixture due to their strong colour. Or why you ask the waiter for an Aperol Spritz after noticing it on the table over. These are Distinctive Brand Assets in action.

Kikkoman Distinctive Bottle
Corona Distinctive Lime Serve
Stand Out Mentally

They improve how easily your brand comes to mind. They create shortcuts (mental heuristics) for consumers, the vast majority of whom neither care nor know anything about brands in the way marketers do. They create more dimensions for how brands come to mind in purchase and consumption occasions. A study by Kantar Brand Z found brands with the strongest assets are on average 52% more ‘salient’ than their rivals i.e. they are much more likely to spring to mind when consumers are shopping within the category. Think of how a Corona comes to mind at a beach bar thanks to the lime. Or how a tin of Pringles pops into your head on the way to the confectionary aisle. Creating a brand that is salient (comes to mind) at purchase or consumption is one of the most important factors in how brands grow, DBAs help get you there.

Types of Distinctive Brand Assets

While Distinctive Brand Assets (or DBAs) can manifest from any of the human senses, the majority of DBAs are visual in nature, with a small but increasing number of audio assets. While not an exhaustive or mutually exclusive list, here we break down the main types.


The obvious place to start. So often the most recognisable brand asset driven by their usage and prominence as well as the fact they normally form part of the lockup with the brand name. A well embedded logo allows for creative usage, flexibility and opens the door to colours and shapes playing wider roles.


Pack or Product Shapes & Elements

While not applicable to all, pack or product are critical DBAs for FMCG/CPG brands and often the highest reach & most common consumer touchpoint due to their visibility on shelf or at home. Most packaging falls into the average category, with time and consistency doing the heavy lifting, however stand out distinctive packs can really help propel brands forward (Check out more examples of distinctive packaging here).


Either a single colour or a combination, colour plays a key role on its own or as part of multi-dimensional DBA. However, unless a mass consumer brand, colour is very difficult to own in isolation often requiring the support of shape or more context. Guinness is an example of one brand which uses colour very well with black & white having been used consistently for years (whilst also playing on the shape of the pint). In recent years, Deliveroo is another who has used colour well, with their teal a common sight in cities globally.


Can you guess the beer brand from the above colour palette?
Via ColorsWall

Shapes, icons or Elements

Shapes in all their forms represent some of the most embedded DBAs, with the most iconic often jumping out from the brand logo. The McDonalds Golden Arches is a good example of how logo, colour & shape combine to create something recognised the world over.


Another example is Heineken, some of you may have not guessed the beer brand above from the colour palette alone, but when shape is introduced it becomes much clearer. This red star helps, consciously and subconsciously, to make Heineken Heineken against the sea of competitor green beers.


Magazines such as the Economist & National Geographic also show how colour, shape & product can combine to create powerful DBAs.


Words, Taglines, Statements or Claims

While several taglines may come to mind for you, these will most likely belong to the Nike or Apple of this world. While not impossible, words and taglines are much harder to embed without consistent use, creativity, time, prioritisation and big budgets. Test this yourself, can you recite the tagline of Adidas or Samsung? This isn’t to dismiss the importance of taglines from a distinctiveness perspective, but care is needed when relying on your tagline to do all the work in connecting disparate marketing activity alone.


The sum of many parts, style is related to a brand’s visual identity or brand world. Think of Red Bull and the illustrative style in their ads. More often than not brands follow the safe category norms. The ones that take risks stand out in the sea of sameness.


Spotify, another example of a brand using a distinctive style

Characters or Mascots

Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders, Mr Muscle, Aleksandr Orlov AKA Compare the Meerkat, all examples of strong DBAs embedded with category buyers and even within wider culture itself. Characters or icons represents some of the most fertile territory for DBAs driven in part by our innate ability to better remember animals or faces, but also by the ability for brands to really hero and play with their characters or icons on pack and within creative.


Audio or Sonic Branding

Often underutilised in modern times, audio devices are another weapon in creating a distinctive brand. Intel is perhaps the best known example of this.

It could be said that jingles, one such format, are a microcosm of marketing; an incredible hard-working device gone out of favour in preference of more trendier concepts. Some of the best examples come from brands using audio to double down on taglines and/or brand name; think Go Compare, McDonalds “I’m Lovin It”, or “Ho ho ho, Green Giant”. With the growth in audio devices, podcast advertising, and not to mention AV in general, audio DBAs may again have their time in the sun.

If would you like help understanding the performance of your brand through a quantitative assessment of your distinctive assets contact us to find out more.

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Harry's logo
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Distinctive Brand Asset Research & Tracking

Understanding the current performance of your Distinctive Brand Assets is one of the first jobs in planning for distinctiveness, and tracking them over time is key to your marketing effectiveness journey. We offer a cost effective & robust solution to research and track your brand assets. Contact us on hello@DistinctiveBAT.com to find out more.

    Building A Distinctive Brand Asset Strategy

    Brands of all sizes can start improving the standing of their Distinctive Brand Assets. The first step is to undertake distinctive asset research, an audit of your assets allows you to understand actual performance and against competitors. 

    This research will help unpick your best performing brand assets, which assets you should be doubling down on. It will also allow you understand any watchout assets that are being misattributed to competitors. It will uncover which assets may need more work, adaption and/or creative application and finally it will allow you benchmark and track performance over time. 

    Copy of DBAT Grid (1)

    Resources & Blog

    Jingles: The Silent Powerhouses of Advertising?

    Could jingles make a comeback? We explore the decline and potential.

    Distinctive Character Assets with Cut-Through

    We take a look at some of the most distinctive character assets.

    Distinctive Brand Assets and Messaging Brand Assets

    Distinctive Brand Assets and Messaging Brand Assets, the differences and why it matters.

    Not sure what you need?

    1 Improving the branding of your TV advertising: Millward Brown, 2006. 2 IPSOS The Power of You. 3 Ebiquity – How creativity drives advertising effectiveness