Branding is a serious business, but does that mean brands themselves must always be so serious. Is there room for more personality?
In market after market, CMOs are under pressure to deliver more outputs and bigger numbers. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that brands themselves have become so serious. Who wouldn’t be earnest given what is now expected?
And yet, sometimes, it is the brands that can see past the commercial intensity and project themselves with humor and humanity that consumers are connecting with best. As Alex Altman observed, “it’s fascinating to see brands turn self-deprecation into an earnest form of self-promotion … The strategy has helped some brands atone for mistakes, others address the frustrations of consumers, and others show empathy over the triteness of their industry’s advertising … It shows that they are prone to the same mistakes and vulnerabilities as humans, which in a weird sort of way, makes them more likable to a lot of people.”
It’s ironical isn’t it that in some ways the distance between brands and people has never been closer (in terms of degrees of separation) and yet many brands still feel cut-off from consumers? They try to hard to be cool or credible or hip, or they talk about themselves in ways that people have no time for. So many brands have bought into the authority myth – the belief that in order for customers to prioritize them, they must not just gain their attention, they must also corner their respect. Social media and content marketing haven’t helped. They’ve encouraged brands to believe that they must always have something important to say, and that doing so is a formula for success. But no amount of talking or posting counts for anything if no-one is interested.
The fact is you can’t be the best brand for every consumer all the time. Instead of trying to hide that, brands have an opportunity to make light of those moments when they fall short or where they are simply not as *something* as their competitors. (Like the Progressive Insurance example pictured above.) But to do that confidently, brands need to be super-clear about their comparative market positioning. For many, such an approach feels too out-there, too risky, too easily-misunderstood. They revert instead to what they know: singing their own praises; increasing their projected sense of authority.
Oscar Wilde once observed that “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” The same is true of marketing. It may be a serious business, but much more importantly it’s a human business, and the deftness of that touch is easily lost to cleverness, arrogance or showmanship. If we want the brands we work for to be more effective, then we need to make them more visibly acceptable. And in some cases, that’s about deliberately and counter-intuitively choosing to be less intrusive, less brash, less of a ‘champion’ and more of a friendly face in the crowd of messages. It’s about choosing to defy the market formulae.
Speaking of formulae, take a look at this wonderfully wicked appraisal of brand videos from a company that makes its living off selling footage. It’s also a reminder of just how much brands have vanilla-ized values and personality. The obvious, dressed up to look profound. And all of it utterly forgettable to consumers who peer right through all this terribly serious strategy, and its predictable expression, because it holds nothing of interest to them in their days.
As people, we’re drawn to those who are humble and clear, fun, whimsical and who are genuinely interested and interesting. Somehow, faced with the opportunity to write that large, most brands back off being that raw. They plumb for authority. And when they do so, they lose people.
So here’s a simple challenge the next time you’re looking for a cut-through brand idea. Try making someone smile, with a very human expression of how your brand really is. In real life.
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