“I hope your clients don’t read Ad Age,” quipped a comment at the end of my latest essay in which I said Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” movie was a great piece of entertainment, but that brands need to be built from behaviors, not image or content.
I had to laugh, because they guy should really be worried about his clients reading my piece. I've already told mine the truth.
There was no real consensus on my article one way or another. Opinion was divided among the dozen or so comments, and the vast majority of the Tweets agreed with my position. But I don’t subscribe to the popularity as truth model for vetting ideas, since a public opinion poll today on the existence of UFOs would prove that they’re real.
And I have to admit that it’s getting old debating with the branding community about brands. The comments challenging my piece evidenced with haughty certainty that brands are all about stories, ideas, building goodwill, establishing emotional connections and patriotic intentions, and that I had a personal disregard for creativity and the “why” of advertising. The proof of their beliefs was, well, a priori, since the very concept for the little movie was brilliant before it ever saw the light of day. Lots of views on YouTube only confirmed what they already knew to be right.
These opinions couldn’t be more wrong, and they reveal why brands overall are suffering a loss of believability, adoption, loyalty, and price premium. They also reminded me again why there may be no hope for many of the branding stalwarts who’ll find themselves out of work long before they ever learn how to be more critical and open about their profession.
My essay made three basic points in support of my argument that content isn’t branding. Briefly:
- Any brand can say anything: Why was the patriotism of “Halftime in America” part of Chrysler’s brand DNA, vision, or whatever babblespeak they use internally to explain this stuff? Because a roomful of experts decided so. They could have just as easily declared that the brand is all about fresh dogfood or Nazi swizzle sticks, and hired brilliant ad people to create a different movie. No brand “owns” patriotism any more than they own “funny” or “sexy.”
- Awareness isn’t belief or use: Lots of us saw the spot and loved it (including me). So what? The cognitive leap from being inspired by the message to applying it to Chrysler in any meaningful way is huge; it’s telling that the thrust of the media buzz that immediately followed its airing on the Super Bowl was about its political message and possible complicity of the Obama campaign. I didn’t hear or read about one question about “why Chrysler?” The talk about the ad was about the ad being a great ad.
- Brands are behavior: Consumers today aren’t stupid enough to believe what companies declare, and they know they’re not having conversations with brands but rather talking about them. Brands aren’t people or things but the conceptual creations of people, and they create them in 2012 through their actions, not declarations. So marketing content is the narration of brands, not a substitute, and in my essay I suggested a half-dozen ways Chrysler could make its wonderful little movie mean real, tangible, believable things by taking actions instead of relying on impressions (or on the brilliance of those gurus dreaming stuff up in darkened conference rooms).
I wish I were surprised that more branding traditionalists didn’t at least grasp the possibility that their content-only approach to brands might be just a little out of date, but I wasn’t. I’ve been on my soapbox since my first book, Branding Only Works on Cattle, was published in 2008, and I’m going to keep making the case for a new, more authentically honest and real approach to brands and marketing with my fourth book, Tell The Truth, coming out next month.
The real creative challenge...and opportunity...for marketers is to come to grips with the requirements of this new world of ours, and come up with some truly novel ways to connecting what brands declare to what businesses do.
Telling the truth is a far greater task than continually making the case for why it’s OK to ignore or deny it.
Image by: jrhode