The B Word

It seems to me a lot of confusion and irritation about branding and whether it’s good or not, arises from different meanings people attribute to the word. (Christine Arden of allaboutbranding and DNA Design in Auckland made this point to me last week and inspired me to write this.)

I don’t want to bore you with linguistic deckchairs, though that may be the effect of this post. And I’d like to avoid telling you which definition is right, because it’s hardly my place to do so.

First, there was Brand as trademark, and that was simple enough.

Then the marketing boys got excited and started to create bigger ideas of what a brand was through things like advertising, design etc. Hence brand-as-idealised-image. Not to be confused with what we consumers laughingly call reality.

This was most prominent in the commercial world, which means that for many people, brand-as-image became synonymous with brand-as-giant-con-trick perpetrated by unscrupulous manipulators. These people, understandably, get irate when anyone talks about Oxfam or the Catholic Church as a brand.

Although a fourth definition of brand would include all such organisations. This, the broadest definition, is brand-as-shorthand-for-ideas people have about people, organisations or things.

Where there is a lot of mischief is when people slip artfully from one definition to another. Thus they start with the broad definition and pay tribute to how consumers now control brands. Then proceed to talk about the branding-as-ideal work they do as if it controls the whole thing.

Personally, I favour the broadest definition but also still feel a bit uneasy talking about worthy causes as brands, simply because the word still carries the baggage from the more crass commercial attempts at branding.

Is this helpful or are you bored yet?

4 thoughts on “The B Word

  1. gapingvoid

    branding is dead (cont.)

    I’ve been thinking more about the “Why Branding Is Dead” conversation. Johnnie Moore talking about brands:Where there is a lot of mischief is when people slip artfully from one definition to another. Thus they start with the broad definition…

    Reply
  2. David Burn

    There is no way on GOD’S EARTH anyone can talk about “Brands” and not have my eyes instantly glaze over. Not even you, Johnnie. Sorry 😉

    Why is branding “dead”? Because it’s an area of human endeavor where there is no longer real, human “ferment” going on. Where there used to be insight, there is now only cannibalisation of older, bigger ideas.

    —–

    Not at all bored. Branding is a major topic and no number of Cluetrains or “Hughtrains” are about to derail this subject anytime soon.

    “For many people, brand-as-image became synonymous with brand-as-giant-con-trick perpetrated by unscrupulous manipulators.”

    I asked yesterday in this space if the anti-branding contingent had any better firepower in their arsensal than accusations of shamelessness. No responses. Now today, I see we’re back to the morality of advertising argument.

    Johnnie, what con-trick do you speak of? When a corporate entity puts millions of dollars behind their “look and feel” and goes on to sponsor events and create partnerships with entertainers and record companies and pro sports leagues, where is the con? Seriously. This brings to mind the old notion that ads can somehow dupe people into buying. I’d like to believe people are more intellingent than that. I’d like to believe people buy because of their relationship with a brand. No, not a real relationship like the ones we have with each other, but a relationship nevertheless.

    Bottom line, it’s not an either or situation. Traditional branding is here to stay. So is new media and the conversations it creates. Smart marketers will help the two work well together.

    Reply
  3. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks for the comment David. I can’t help suspecting that we may be in “violent agreement” and are getting stuck in details. But I’ll try to cover your points you’ver raised.

    1. I’m glad you’re not bored.

    2. Your comment read Shameless? Come on, take the kid gloves off. We are all shameless self-promoters in this business. It sounded more like a statement than a question.

    I don’t think of myself as a shameless self-promoter but I wasn’t going to bother saying so as I felt a little like the man asked, when did you stop beating your wife.

    Now you claim to have said I asked yesterday in this space if the anti-branding contingent had any better firepower in their arsensal than accusations of shamelessness. No response. That’s a distortion both of what you actually said and of the range and number of criticism people have made of Lovemarks. But I’ll assume this is just your way of expressing frustration!

    3. You ask me which con-trick I speak of. At the risk (no, certainty) of being pedantic, in my post I was saying that for some people brands are a con trick. You may have assumed that I am one of those people. Perhaps the brevity of my post gave that impression (I was just trying to be concise).

    Actually, I think some brands are a con to varying degrees, and others are not. No brand and no person is perfect.

    I think Lovemarks is a con when is says it says Lovemarks are “the future beyond brands”. Does that mean every single thing in Lovemarks is a lie? No. If you want more examples of brands I think are dishonest, well that’s a big subject for a longer post.

    Saying that brands dissemble is not the same as saying people are duped into buying (although I’ve been duped a few times).

    4. I agree with you (no, I really do) that, like most things in life, it’s not an either or situation. I’m not Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker and I don’t attempt in each post to bring balance to the universe.

    I don’t expect yours to either. So when you say we’re all shameless self-promoters my first instinct is not to rise to the bait. Now I am rising, I want to say that though I am far from perfect, I still reserve the right to speak up about things I think are wrong. I think your comment that we’re all shameless is an example of either/or thinking – in fact, it’s not just unfair on me, I also think it’s unfair on you. You don’t seem shameless to me.

    By the way, I don’t think blogs are the perfect answer to everything. I realise that, like emails, there is huge scope for interpretation in things like tone and things are said in heat that we later regret – I know that’s true for me.

    I also see that you’ve raised some more points in response to my questions in your own blog. I’ll aim to get back to you there when I have a bt more time.

    Reply
  4. David Burn

    Getting stuck in the details is a necessary evil in this case, I’m afraid. For we have people who create brands for a living saying things like brands are dead. Kevin Roberts has one way of saying it. Hugh has another. The irony of this is beyond obvious.

    As to my claim that we’re all shameless self-promoters just like the brands we pimp, I consent that it was a blanket statement that doen’t always cover every inch us complicated ad beings. Please don’t take it personally.

    I want branded communications to be better for the customer and the brand. I believe the whole “markets are conversations” idea is a good step in the right direction. I also believe it is but one step in a long and arduous journey.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.