19
Nov
14

Consistency: Mythical Beast, Real-world Tyrant

When it comes to messaging, the word “consistency” is the consistent favorite, as a way to describe the messaging goals of many a brand. It consistently wins the prize for the most overused word in the business.

Not that I don’t understand the impulse. With today’s top-heavy staffing, it takes so many hours to reach common ground on the simplest decisions that there’s little incentive to evolve consumer messaging once the latest tagline passes in committee.

It’s so bad that the very idea of a consistent style of communication is too radical to contemplate. In a know-nothing world dominated by the best-practice undead, being consistent means saying exactly the same thing over and over and over and over and…

While this phenomenon is disturbing enough, the origin of the consistency bug is, as I see it, far more troubling. It stems from a deep-seated fear, born of deep-seated ignorance: The horrifying realization that one has neither the training, instinct, or talent to approach advertising and marketing creatively.

Of the many excuses for this decidedly aberrant behavior, none is less convincing than the all-time favorite, “The client made me do it.” Let me go on record as the first person in the history of advertising to assert that the client can’t make you do anything.

Occult powers.
If I’m not the first, I see no evidence of that principle at work anywhere I look.

  • Your CEO might “make you,” for no other reason than that your
    agency’s market niche is only one notch over from Upstairs Maid
  • Your creative director might “make you,” because it means less
    fuss and bother with image searches and font choices
  • Or your Account Supervisor might “make you,” because it’s
    scientifically proven to guarantee getting to Pilates class on time

But never the client, no matter how many implied client directives you choose to divine, using the mind-reading skills you learned in your MBA program.

To the client, one can always say “no.”

Not flat-out no, by the way. Not scary, lose-the-account no, I’m talking about a no that’s demonstrated, taught, presented and, most important, accompanied by alternatives.

Why is this worth the bother? Because, like any sane person, you’d like your 60-hour work week to add up to something—as opposed to a pile of conventionalized drivel that will one day be cranked out by a Google subroutine.

Myth making vs….
As I see it, the Myth of Consistency also has its origins in a misunderstanding of Brand Identity. At one end of the spectrum are people who believe any ad-like object with the “approved logo lock up, font and color palette” is branded. At the other end are a large group of brand managers who believe nothing is branded unless it conveys exactly the same message each time, word-for-word like a parrot and pixel-for-pixel like a child’s paint-by-numbers book.

But none of this micro consistency is real branding. That’s because branding is a promise of value. Not a promise, mind you, that the headline of every print ad will have 5 words and be in 24-point type. Not a promise that that the logo lock up will never appear on a colored background or that gradient color washes will anchor every background.

And, for heaven’s sake, branding does not mean using the same stock art everyone else is using, the same grinning, proto-orgasmic customers enjoying the same perfect day. Or their opposite, the sad sack, frowny-faced types who telegraph “Before [PRODUCT_NAME].”

…real brand building.
Branding, to the extent that consistency is involved at all, is bound up with the idea of trust. A branded message is a promise to deliver service or function reliably. And contrary to today’s obsessive practice, there is—yes there is—more than one way to make that promise, keep it alive and make your audience’s perception of its value grow.

Because that’s the mistake consistency hawks continue to make. If your message isn’t constantly evolving to reveal more and more of your value to consumers, your branding efforts are all for naught.
You become like that annoying friend we’ve all had at one point who does one tiny favor for you and never stops reminding you, word-for-word, of that favor every time you run into them.

Branding, then, is not about piddling details. It’s about being consistently engaging, enlivening and most of all interesting. If Apple is America’s most valuable company, it has everything to do with its ability to capture the Thought Leader title over and over again on a variety of issues. The apple logo, the color white, those annoying, cloying, smarmy, smug and grotesquely self-congratulatory voiceovers they crank out “consistently”? Not so much.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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