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The Dan Conner Conundrum: Brand Association Works in Mysterious Ways

John Goodman is a very well-known man. He won a Best Actor Golden Globe Award in 1993 and has contributed to more than 50 films. Yet, for some reason I cannot un-associate him with his role as Dan Conner on the sitcom Roseanne.

When I see John Goodman, I immediately think, “Hey, what is Dan Conner doing there!? And where is Roseanne?” I have a hard time watching his movies, such as The Flintstones, because it’s confusing and strange to see him outside of his typical Dan Conner setting of small town Lanford, Illinois.

So, how does this direct association even happen? I should be able to see Mr. Goodman as the other characters he is playing, right? Although his intention probably wasn’t to permanently become Dan Conner, that is what he did, at least in my mind. He has branded himself into my head as Dan for life, and he has done it well.

As weird as it sounds, my John Goodman/Dan Conner association is very similar to how national brands get so well-known. Whenever we see those big, golden arches, we know that a McDonald’s is nearby. It doesn’t matter if you never eat at McDonald’s or if you’re in another state, because you immediately know what’s ahead when you see the bright yellow “M.” And for most of us, we even know what food we could expect if we stopped in at that particular McDonald’s: cheeseburgers, french fries, and chicken nuggets.

This is a great thing for McDonald’s, of course, because they pull in customers just by displaying the sign. But for the purposes of personal branding, such as with famous actors like John Goodman, is this kind of brand association still such a positive thing? I’m not so sure.

Will you always picture this actress as Flo? Be honest.

Will you always picture this actress as Flo? Be honest.

Doing a quality job is something to appreciate and being recognized right away by the public is great for any actor or business, but sometimes this type of “personal” brand association causes more harm than good. Let’s say that you don’t automatically associate Dan Conner with John Goodman, as I do. Try to think of another actor or actress instead, like Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials. Would you have a tough time believing that actress as any other character without picturing her as Flo? Be honest. When you think of it that way, brand association seems to benefit brands most of the time but personal brand association is trickier for the people involved. In an actor’s case, if he or she isn’t careful, fans’ personal brand association could equal typecasting or eventually a failed career.

Of course, neither of those unfortunate things apply to John Goodman on a large scale since he’s had so much success after his role on Roseanne. Playing Dan Conner helped him become very famous and added something very valuable to his resume that he will be remembered for forever. So, way to go Dan Conner…um, I mean John Goodman…for all of your success and for forever branding yourself into my head as the one and only man for Roseanne!

What brands, famous people, or characters have branded themselves in your mind forever? Do you think that any association is good, or do you think that some brand association (whether in the traditional sense or in the personal sense) has negatives?



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Comments

  1. JPorretto

    Yes, whenever I see “Flo” in Madmen, I’m just expecting her to tell me how much I can save on my insurance. I think they should toss the viewers a bone and just do it =)

    Roseanne was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Still is. It was always just so real. No Danny Tanner morality lectures (Man was Bob Saget FULL OF IT) or silly gimmicks, just real life problems that I could relate to.

    The only time I didn’t think of John Goodman as Dan Conner was in The West Wing. He looked a little different and had a completely different personality. Somebody’s got range!

    • Amanda Sneed

      Roseanne will always be one of my favorite shows too! It’s so easy to relate too, and so real, like you said.

      I do still enjoy a good Full House episode now and then, but it doesn’t compare to Roseanne’s get in your face type of realness!

  2. Joseph Giorgi

    Amanda,

    Very thought-provoking (and excellent) post! There are a number of actors and actresses that I still can’t mentally separate from the key characters they played at earlier points in their careers. For me, John Goodman is one of them, but for a slightly different reason. When I picture him, I immediately envision his role in “The Big Lebowski.” In fact, now I’m cracking up just thinking about it. :)

    I think that in terms of personal branding, John Goodman evokes an all-around positive and likeable vibe. Like you said, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success with his post-“Rosanne” career, and I’d probably attribute that to his overall talent. It would be tough for audiences not to find something enjoyable in each of his roles. Sure, we might immediately associate him with one character or another, but I think that he’s versatile and talented enough to come off as believable in just about every project he tackles.

    Again, awesome post!

    • Amanda Sneed

      Thanks Joe! I enjoyed writing this post very much! Go John/Dan go! ;-)

  3. cyberneticSAM

    I think that this is a good point. I have this same association problem, especially with television actors. When you see them in a role for sooooo long and then see them attempting to be something completely different, it’s hard to take that association away. However, I think that is the true test of an actor’s skill and form. By that I mean if they can somehow manage to pull me away from the distraction of association, then they are indeed amazing actors. I think John Goodman has that ability. As Joe mentioned before about “The Big Lebowski,” I was completely removed from the “Rosanne” association.

    Just like Steve Carell on “The Office.” He has the biggest character association I can think of in present day, and now with his leaving “The Office,” I have seen him in other movies and so far he has (on multiple occasions) given me hope that he can pull away from his typical brand.

    Great Post!

  4. Bret Bonnet

    Interesting post.

    I understand EXACTLY where you’re coming from. Depending on our affinity towards the actor/actress and their previous roles, it’s sometimes difficult to break that association.

    I guess this is why I can’t see Will Ferrell as the next Michael Scott in “The Office” or Seth Rogen as a super hero in the “Green Hornet”. To me they will both be “funny guys” and nothing more or less.

    Hmm… I think another great example of this would be the Dell spokesperson. Ben Curtis will FOREVER been know as the kid who said “Dude, you’re getting a Dell”! :)

  5. Scooby DOO!

    I am the same way, once an actor is in a show or a commercial for a long time, I will always remember them as that character. I can’t wait for the Verizon guy to surface since his contract was cancelled. Add to that all the Prision Break stars who are kinda flopping now, and all the actors on Two and Half Men. The older I get, the more I realize how much better the older shows were. Bring Columbo back!

    • Jana Quinn

      I was actually reading in a personal branding article that the Verizon guy (The Can You Hear Me Now? guy) is basically playing himself. He really dresses and carries himself like that. He’s even become a distraction at weddings when people want to take pictures with him. Talk about negative consequences!

  6. Juliette

    Though I loved Roseanne quite a bit I always end up picture John Goodman in a black suit with a black fedora singing blues. (Thank you “Blues Brothers 2000.) I think the main reason that image comes to mind is that it was the first time I’d heard him sing and thought he did extremely well.

    But I’m with ya on the actor/character association. I still think of Joe Morton as Miles Dyson from Terminator 2 no matter how many other things I’ve seen him in. It took me months to stop thinking of Anthony Stewart Head as Giles when watching Repo The Genetic Opera (now I flip flop between calling him Giles or Nathan). This becomes a problem when the actor plays a character I really hate. I have a very hard time bringing myself to watch other things with that actor due to the bad association with the previous character (Eliza Dushku as Faith has caused me to put off watching Dollhouse…just because I didn’t like her in Buffy)

    I do think that there are some actors I can’t pin down to a single role. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamey Sheridan…while they play recognizable characters I tend to think of the actor rather than the character.

    • Amanda Sneed

      I’m that same way with Julia Roberts. She’s been great in so many movies I can’t pin her down to only one character.

      This association happens most often for me with tv shows, since I watch the shows I love very often. Another good example of this for me is “Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler”, the main detectives from Law & Order SVU. I will never be able to watch them in other roles.

      • Juliette

        Oooo. I can see that problem with the SVU detectives. I’m not sure I’d be able to think of them as other characters. Alyson Hannigan is probably one of those for me. Though I’m watching her in “How I Met Your Mother” I still think of her as Willow from “Buffy” (and probably always will).

    • Jana Quinn

      Slightly off-topic, but you absolutely MUST put your Eliza Dushku dislike on a backburner and watch Dollhouse. Yeah, her acting is still a bit wooden, but once you see the part she’s playing, you’ll understand why it’s a perfect fit. The show is SO GOOD… and streaming on Netflix. :)

  7. Jana Quinn

    Awesome post, Amanda. I can definitely see where it can be a positive thing: seeing the golden arches and automatically having McDonald’s and the taste of their disgustingly greasy yet delicious fries in your mouth.

    I also like that you touched on the negative consequences of cementing in brand association. If you’ve established yourself well in one role, it can be hard for people to take you seriously in another; Bret’s example about Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell was dead on.

    Excellent observations.

  8. Jill Tooley

    I also love “Roseanne.” I sort of stopped watching in the later seasons, but I’m trying to catch up gradually. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says…it’s an excellent show!!!

    I don’t have this association issue with John Goodman (although his character in “The Big Lebowski” is one of his more memorable roles to me) but I totally get where you’re coming from. Brand-wise, I can’t disassociate Cadbury Creme Eggs with that cute, clucking bunny. I hope they never get rid of him as a spokesrabbit, otherwise I’m going to be sad!

    Awesome post – thanks for sharing your Dan Conner enthusiasm. I mean, come on…who DOESN’T like him?!? ;)

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