Opinion: The hypocrisy of brands
Look at any definition of the words "brand" or "brands" or "branding" and you’ll get a seemingly consistent triangulation of words and phrases along the lines of: The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme.
The key word here is "consistent."
Go into a McDonald's in Siberia and you’ll get the same Big Mac as the one in South Africa (albeit, perhaps a little more frozen). Walk into a Niketown in New York and you'll find you can “just do it” as easily as you can in Barcelona. This consistency must permeate every single aspect of the brand in order to be reinforced and delivered. From customer service to store experience to product quality to design to—you guessed it—the look and feel of communications.
The latter is where readers of this article are most likely to over-index. Whether you call it your Brand Playbook, Brand Bible or the more common moniker of Brand Guidelines, it is where where marketing has become frozen in time and has really failed to make any headway or progress in terms of evolution or innovation for the most part.
I am reminded of the obscenity of the Arnell Group charging Pepsi more than $1 million to refine and redesign the Pepsi logo and with it, the ridiculous dissertation of all the science and black-box precision that went into creating what was, essentially, a knockoff of the Obama logo.
Consistency in branding design and communications has become a one-size-fits-all-approach that has its talons locked into cost-cutting (one photo shoot that must serve the entire world). Deviate from the corporate mandate at your peril.
And then along comes Google and every single day embraces a heresy of bastardizing its own logo.
So why the title, “The hypocrisy of brands?” It’s because the external, consumer- or shareholder-facing world of consistency is absolutely not mirrored inside the corporation. Instead we find a never-ending vicious cycle of company re-orgs, restructures, budget cuts, hiring freezes, key c-suite defections and of course the dreaded but inevitable agency review and search.
It's not so much a question of whether or not you have experienced any of these events over the past 12 month, rather: "How many of them have you had?”
Think about it. How is it possible to gain any momentum; any semblance of impetus for growth, endurance, follow-up or follow-through—especially on newer, more cutting-edge, riskier or innovative projects—when there is a constant undermining or disruption of progress?
It seems that every time we get our noses in front, they get chopped off (generally by ourselves!) It’s little wonder the end product is often underwhelming and a shadow of its potential.
And whenever a new person enters the picture, often their first port of call will be to fire the incumbents that were attached to the person they replaced and surround themselves instead with their own people from their previous positions. Then of course they’ll terminate existing work streams, pause any projects in the approval pipeline and embark on their own fact-finding, discovery or immersion tour de force—wasting 6 or more months to arrive at a foregone conclusion: it's time for a new agency.
Instead, I would recommend issuing a moratorium on change. I know it might sound like a giant contradiction to advocate against change but in this case I’m being deadly serious. Anyone coming into a new position should be obliged to pick up the ball and run with it. An incoming c-suite executive should be banned from changing—or even considering changing—the existing agency or partner structure for 12 months.
If we truly want to modernize—or even save—brands, then it is critical that we ensure that what happens inside the organization truly represents and projects what is being seen and/or perceived outside of the company. Anything else is just a sham on the continuum of keeping up appearances or, worse, an egregious deception that will eventually lead to the demise of the brand—and ultimately the corporation.
If the price of entry for survival is consistency, then it’s about time we figure out how to treat our toxic and possibly terminal condition of corporate and brand schizophrenia.