This post was originally posted June 30, 2009.

The Japanese martial art of Judo is characterized by the principle of using an opponent’s attack against him. When an attacker rushes a Judo practitioner the opponent will quickly pivot so the attacker’s momentum can be used to send him flailing towards the ground. Rather than relying on superior strength, Judo is about redirecting potential attacks, and turning them to your advantage.


For communications professionals managing complex brands, the practice of “Brand Judo” can help turn negative perceptions into positive brand stories—insulating your brand from ongoing or potential attacks, and providing a differentiating leg up on the competition.

One of the all-time greatest examples of Brand Judo may also be one of the first. Advertising aficionados (and fans of AMC’s Mad Men) surely remember the 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle campaign. As competing automakers built bigger and bigger cars for growing post-WWII families, Volkswagen’s Beetle was seen as too small, too ugly, and, well, too German. The legendary campaign played up the small and ugly perceptions with headlines like “Think Small” and “Lemon” that drove home the benefits of driving a small, German (i.e. well-made) car. The folks at Smart surely know their history…

For a more recent example, look at Hulu’s current campaign. We all know television rots ours brains and we should all get out and smell the roses a bit more. Why on earth do we need more ways to watch TV “anytime, for free”? The answer is in fact otherworldly: it turns out Hulu is actually “an evil plot to destroy the world.” They’re all aliens at Hulu, and that’s how they roll. Comical, sure, but a fine example of Brand Judo in action as Hulu turns a perceived negative into a fun brand story.

In branding, whether it’s Listerine making the most of its “burn,” Altoids promoting mints that are “curiously strong,” Volvo turning boxy-looking vehicles into the safest cars on the road, Volkswagen’s lemon, or Hulu’s alien plot, perceived weaknesses are often, in fact, great (differentiating) strengths.

Brand Judo works. Find your inner lemon…and squeeze.

Got any Brand Judo stories of your own??