Gekko Was Wrong: Greed Is Bad

Brands Need to Reposition, as the Seven Sins Are Deadly Again

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Pierre-Emmanuel Maire
Pierre-Emmanuel Maire

If the fundamental approach to brand positioning is to work with what is foremost in people's minds, then we can safely say this recession, depression, collapse -- whichever label the economic pundits eventually agree on for this crisis -- should be understood and appreciated for what it is: a systemic change in peoples' value systems as consumers.

That's not something some marketers would like to believe or can deal with simply by making advertising campaigns look and feel more optimistic. Besides, it's hard to remember anything pessimistic or devoid of optimism in the commercial breaks of the past two decades.

In just a few months, financial institutions including the world-famous Swiss banks have been repositioned from safe to unsafe, and the luxury world has been deposed from pure glamour to pure selfishness. In just a few months, they have moved from virtuous to sinful. The art strategy that allowed the luxury industry to present its products as essential will no longer help. The battle is rather one of repositioning from egocentric to altruistic, from bad to good. As French sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky put it, "The luxury-goods industry represents waste, the superficial, the inequality of wealth. They have no need to exist."

Are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth deadly sins once again? And are prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity virtues again? It very much looks so. But virtues can provide just as powerful a basis for brands. Luxury brands could reclaim or reassume the concept of artisanship vs. art and reaffirm the word "lasting" vs. the word "fad" for people less full of themselves, more tasteful, less ostentatious and more understated. After all, as William Somerset Maugham once said, "The well-dressed man is he whose clothes you never notice."

Pierre-Emmanuel Maire is founder-CEO of BrandThinkTank Group, a strategic brand and communication consultancy. He spent 15 years at Ammirati Puris Lintas (renamed Lowe Worldwide in 2000). He also authored and led the execution of the global "Life Can't Wait" brand strategy for Sunsilk, a shampoo brand targeting 20-something women.

By the same token, the bank brands could reassume the concept of security vs. speculation, and stand less for yield and more for wealth, less for hedge and more for help, less for risk and more for reason, less for gambling and more for building. A number of players in the tourism industry have already made carbon-footprint reduction, fair trade and sustainable development the driving principles of their propositions. Perhaps they are more conscious of the state of the world simply because they travel it more.

Martin Puris' positioning strategy for Club Med 20 years ago has never been so topical: Vacationers seek "The antidote for civilization." Neither could Bill Bernbach's "Think small" concept for the VW Beetle 40 years ago be more relevant today.

A new battle for consumers' minds is being waged, because what matters to them has changed. Sins are out, virtues are in. And brands had better reconsider their positions accordingly, because it's ideas that move people; it's ideas that people buy.

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