Imagine a post-apocalyptic earth. You know the usual sci-fi plot: the majority of the earth has been destroyed; a few remain and are ruled by an iron-fisted government. All creativity, colour and freedom are outlawed. The 'new earth' is a sorry excuse for it's former self: fragile and struggling to survive.
Now throw brands into this sad future fable - imagine they have all been obliterated from the face of the earth. If this were the case, what would happen? If we had to start at branding ground zero, would we choose brands or the notion of creating brands? Today, brands are very much part and parcel of our daily lives, but if we could choose again would they be?
The short answer is, yes. In my opinion, brands are our natural default. Let me explain... Let's say we were indeed living in this post-apocalyptic world and, yes, the evil government had banned all colour and creativity. We would, undoubtedly, start making 'stuff' again, whether in secret or out in the open. Let's use beer as an example: In the new earth underbelly there are three guys who make beer, and every single bottle of beer is bottled in the same fashion - a non-descript white bottle.
It's pretty obvious, but eventually one bootlegger would emerge as the ultimate beer brew master and we would need a way to differentiate his beer from the rest. We would give it a nickname, a charcoal marking on the bottle or maybe even both. You can see where this is going - and there you would have your first post-apocalyptic beer brand.
Even in a very primal/back-to-basics state, we would need a way to distinguish A from B. Brand is our default because it denotes quality, value and it differentiates one from another, placing choice in the consumers' hands.
This example isn't all that foreign. Look at communism - even when aiming for a world of sameness, great brands have been birthed. Chinese sports apparel brand Li Ning is a perfect example. Birthed in communism, but standing out in China and beyond.
But let's rewind to a pre-apocalyptic world. In this world, we are surrounded by brands, whether we like it or not. We are part of a modern-day eco-system where brands engage with us on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this eco-system is overpopulated, teeming with brand upon brand, too many to count, too many to interact with. So we choose.
If brands are so tightly knit into the daily workings of life, how do you ensure that you stand out? Some would argue that those who shout the loudest are the ones that manage to stand out. While this might be true, this kind of 'standing out' is only momentary and will, essentially, just result in a little bit of 'sparkle and fade'.
We would like to suggest that brands that stand out in the long-term (and manage to knit themselves, as essential ingredients, into our lives) are brands that live up to their purpose.
Great brands have a defined sense of purpose: a greater cause or motive that has a tangible effect on the world around them. Purpose gets back to basics, it throws out all the marketing jargon and gives a brand a single-minded reason for being.
This is a great opportunity to quote the international example bible and wax lyrical about a wide range of great international brands and their well-crafted purposes.
Apple - Enhance people's lives with intuitive, simple, elegant design.
GE - Innovate to solve the world's challenges.
The Body Shop - Enhance individual beauty in a way that protects the planet.
These international examples give you the idea, but often the origins of these purpose statements are unfounded and frankly can be difficult to relate to.
Let's turn our attention to a local example. Castle Lager. In 1998, Castle owned a majority share of the beer market in South Africa. Eleven years later, the brand had lost more than half of this share. As a brand, it had become caught between two worlds - it had lost touch with its core loyal consumers and, unfortunately, also failed to create the desired emotional bond with a new generation of consumers. Castle Lager had a distinct lack of purpose.
The first stage of turning Castle around was understanding its role within South Africa. Castle wasn't the beer that people drank to stand out as an individual, like many of the competitors. It was (and still is) the beer that was always wrapped up in a social context. It was a beer that you shared with your friends; it was a beer that was with you and your friends during great social moments - from international sporting events to a great birthday braai. Castle = social ability.
This was the starting point of defining a single-minded purpose for the brand. Once this purpose was bedded down, the rest of the journey became one of applying coherent thinking and execution to ensure that every part of the Castle Lager experience remains true to its purpose.
In the case of Castle, this single-minded thought has evolved into the tagline. The majority of consumers battle to imagine a time when Castle Lager did not stand for braaing, friends and great South African moments. Castle Lager has evolved into more than just a beer. Love it or hate it, Castle Lager is synonymous with South Africa, sport and friendship. The brand experience is very well-crafted and aligned to this single thought, feeling seamless and natural.
Brands are a natural response to a human need for quality and differentiation. The question then remains: how are you ensuring that your brand manages to stand out from the world of sameness? Like a fish drawn to a shiny lure, are you distracted by all that sparkles (and ultimately fades?), or do you see the long-term value of crafting a brand experience that is true to who you are, resonates with your target market, and ultimately delivers on your business strategy?
Hopefully, it's the latter.
The logo is dead. Long live brands.
The Brand Union is a full-service global brand agency, and part of the WPP Group. They are 500 people in 24 offices, united by experience and attitude.
At the frontier of branding and design, breaking new ground is a necessity, creativity a prerequisite. The Brand Union's capabilities span brand creation, positioning, architecture, design, customer experience and environmental design.