In a common agency scenario, advertising creatives huddle with strategists and account directors with an intimate understanding of the client’s POV—to craft a presentation spelling out the Essence of a brand.
My qualms with this process begin with its redundancy. A brand has always been a summary of the values espoused and the promise made by a company. It’s only recently, when the term “branding” has also been applied to logos, fonts and color swatches—that the cry goes up for a brand to cleave to its essence.
No one who understands what a brand is would allow that to happen. A brand is a distillation of attributes a company, its products and services already exhibits in the real world—not a slogan crafted by committee. It’s an idea, a thought-process, a way of life for the company that owns it. As such, it can’t be made: It must be earned.
Marketers who don’t grasp that embark on periodic quests for the kind of unifying phrase that previous generations would have recognized as a campaign headline—one possible surface manifestation of a brand.
Is it any wonder that this tail-wagging-the-dog effort fails so magnificently?
Senseless…but darn concise.
Compounding the problem is the contradictory intent to be all-inclusive and inoffensive—yet still say something specific, unique and “ownable.” It’s here that the creative torture begins, as anxious marketers attempt to substitute a thesaurus for real creative thought. The search is on for a string of words that say something memorable without deviating into sense.
Yet, once the process is finished, the resulting Essence statement contributes nothing to branded communications. Filtered through its gelatinous mass, even simple phrases abandon all hope of Meaning.
How else explain “The Joy of Pepsi” or statements like:
The last example, aside from being socially tone-deaf, conjures up the absurd image of firing up a power plant in your pants.
The others, and there are many others, are merely blank. For instance, while I might experience joy with my family at Thanksgiving, the last thing I’m liable to remember about the holiday is how great the Pepsi tasted. Regarding Ford, no matter how I interpret the phrase “go further,” it rings false.
Because unless I’m a NASCAR driver, my relative success in life won’t be determined by the car I drive. At the same time, this slogan is linked to a PR campaign revolving around the theme of empowerment. But as much as Ford deserves credit for even entering this arena, this campaign needs to be utterly separate from the idea of buying Ford cars.
Not least because, as with nearly every multinational corporation, the disparity between Ford’s C-level compensation and pay for the rank and file is a major contributor to dis-empowerment.
Again, because a brand is a promise, the credibility of that promise is an essential component of any branding exercise. Go further? Only if you’re a member of the 1%.
As such, Ford’s latest branding blunder is another triumph of marketing/PR ideology over common sense. Somebody sold the car maker on mounting a “purpose-centered” campaign, because such campaigns are very chic right now. They just forgot to check if their high-flying rhetoric actually had wings.
The committee-process ate my thought-process.
If the taglines above appear to make sense, it’s only because they’ve been cast in the form of a brand essence statement. Now, I know how such shallow phrases are produced. It’s a painstaking process, involving many late nights, hundreds of pounds of ugly wrap sandwiches and a headache-inducing stream of jargon-encrusted e-mail.
And in that horribly attenuated process, a kind of groupthink evolves. Trouble is, the final result is a phrase or phrases with countless unspoken associations that, unfortunately, “you had to be there,” to understand.
Paradoxically, the current obsession with Big Data, and its presumption of reality-based messaging, has been accompanied by a withdrawal from the real world. If the only requirement to attaining joy were buying Pepsi, don’t you agree life would be a tad simpler? Yet many other brands also think nothing of expecting consumers to associate their products with life’s greatest achievements, its loftiest feelings.
Want to speak to the essence of your brand? Keep your messaging in bounds. Pepsi as a universal metaphor for life’s great moments? Ford cars as a conduit for self-fulfillment? Please. Once and for all, dump the data, burn the research and just get real with your audience.