Archive for February, 2009



Aristotle: The original brand guru

A couple of thousand years before the first television commercial, the first brand guru held sway.  His name was Aristotle.  

Like Madonna, Cher and Homer (the poet, not Homer Simpson), Aristotle is another of those one name celebrities.  

Aristotle developed a form of logic that is the foundation of analytical thinking.  This deductive method has been widely used in many different fields.  It is certainly the dominant form of analysis in branding.  While it may not be the only or best form of analysis in branding, we’ll leave that question aside for this post and return to it at a future date.

Using his analytical technique, Aristotle set about to understand why plays and other spectacles were such superior forms of education and entertainment than poetry or music alone.  With a ready supply of Greek tragedies and comedies as his database, Aristotle was able to identify six elements that are necessary for all drama.  He collected these elements in “Poetics” a treatise that is used to this very day.  

It is amusing to consider that his treatise was named Poetics but the subject was about the superiority of drama over poetry (epic poetry in particular).  But I digress.

So why do I nominate Aristotle as the original brand guru?

Because Aristotle was the first person to identify the principles that are necessary to define and create a brand today.  Everything that he had to say about drama can be applied to the most successful brands.  Everything.

The first step is to understand what are those principles or elements.  In a later post I will give specific examples of how they apply to branding.  No doubt many will occur to you as you read through this.

The six elements are translated in slightly different ways in my three different translations of Poetics.  I will phrase or paraphrase in a way that makes sense and is true to the meaning — at least as best I can.  To all scholars of ancient Greek, please forgive my trespass and liberties.  And by all means contribute to the dialog!

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Aristotle went on to explain and explore each of these six areas, although not in equal depth.  Much he had to say about plot and relatively little does he spend on spectacle since much of that is the ingenuity and artistry of the stage manager and designers who are of secondary importance to him.

These same six elements have stood the test of time fairly well.  While others have added on and deepened the theories of Aristotle, none have surpassed its fundamental soundness and usefulness.  

As we were developing our own Narrative Branding (R) method, we immediately recognized how our framework and understanding of how to define and create a brilliant brand has much in common with Aristotle’s.  Finally, my MFA in creative writing has been put to good use!  

So, to answer the question above more directly, Aristotle is the original brand guru because he invented analytics and because he was the first to define the elements necessary for a brand to be great.  

Not bad for a man who never saw a TV ad.

The new buzzword is “flexibility”

I used to have a Gumby toy.  It was great because you could bend it into almost any shape possible.  In a world of stiff toys, Gumby had the magic of being flexible.

I sometimes think of brand positioning like those stiff, inflexible toys of the past.  The basic principle of positioning is that your brand stands for one thing and one thing only.  There is no flexibility for the changing marketplace.

By contrast, Narrative Branding is all about giving brands the flexibility they need for today’s dynamic marketplace.  

And marketing decision makers agree with the need for flexibility.  In case you haven’t see it yet, there is an article in this week’s issue of Adweek magazine that discusses our new study on CMO priorities, including the need for flexibility.

The sub-title of the article is “Perhaps the buzzword for ’09 is flexibility”

I know what it is but I don’t have the words for it…

Did you ever have one of those moments when you were asked to describe something and just couldn’t find the right words?  You say things like, “Words cannot convey how I feel about this.”  or “I’m speechless!”  Or just, “you know” you know?

It happens to me all of the time.

So why should I expect that a person in a market research study will have the words when we ask them a question?  We ask them how they feel about a particular brand and they just shrug their shoulders.  We wait.  They look around the room.  Then they say something, anything, just to break the tension of the situation.  We happily note their response, satisfied that we uncovered the truth about the brand!  We write it up in a report, using our own words to interpret what the person said.  We deliver it to a client and all is well in the world.  Right?

Perhaps not so right.  Perhaps the person in the study is just as inarticulate as I am.  They didn’t really have the right words to describe how they felt about that brand, because it was a feeling, not a formed thought.

Therein lies the fault with most market research as it is practiced today.  

We have an unstated expectation that the respondents can say what they mean.  More than that, we expect that they know consciously how they feel about brand.  Or anything else for that matter.  

Does this mean that all market research is wrong on brand??  No.  But it does mean that everything should be taken with a grain of salt.  And that non-verbal measures should be built into the research into brands whenever possible.

The new new Pepsi logo?

There are some wonderful books that take a “what if” look at the world.  You know the kind of book, it imagines what if this happened instead of that?How would it change everything that came afterwards?  A good example is Philip Roth’s recent novel “The Plot Against American” in which he imagines that Charles Lindberg became President when WWII broke out.

In that spirit, I would like to share this story.

In the past few months the redesign of the Pepsi logo has been omnipresent.   At the same time there have been many  news stories in which people said that the new Pepsi logo is a rip-off of Obama’s logo.  Pepsi has adamantly denied it.  Peter Arnell, who’s company did the redesign, has adamantly denied it.

In musing on one of these articles, Michael Thibodeau — co-founder of Verse Group — imagined a “what if” scenario.  What if McCain won the Presidency?  What would the redesign of the Pepsi logo look in that alternative universe?  AdAge thought it was alternative enough to post it on their website.  Or you can just click on the picture below to make it larger .

Pepsi in a McCain world

Pepsi in a McCain world

Should Citi be advertising with Federal bailout money?

It’s an outrage!

With people suddenly saving more money than any time in the past 6 years, why don’t the big banks can cut their advertising and promotional spending?

Why don’t they shift their dollars into more effective forms of advertising?  Or adopt a more effective set of marketing tools to replace the old brand positioning approaches?

Citi has now taken over $350 billion in a combination of direct capital infusions from the Federal TARP funds and Federal guarantees.  That a lot of billions.  

Why is Citi spending nearly $400 million dollars for naming rights to the new Mets stadium, according to our friends at the NY Times?

For that matter, the same goes for Bank of America, Wells Fargo and everyone else who has received Federal funds both on Wall Street and elsewhere.

Now Citi says that none of the TARP money is going into advertising and sponsorships.  That they have a wall separating out these funds.  And that might be true, technically.  But certainly TARP funds into one side of the bank frees up funds in other areas.  

In these dramatic times, Citi can stand apart by taking bold approaches to their marketing.

There is a good case to be made that Citi could cut all of their television advertising by 2/3rds, introduce more effective marketing approaches such as Narrative Branding, and see an improvement in their ROI on marketing.

That would also buy them invaluable good will with Congress and the White House — their most important audience today.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Happy Groundhog Day!

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray relives the same day endlessly.

That is what brand positioning reminds me of.  Repeating the same message endlessly.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Superbowl then and now

What is the Superbowl if not just one large commercial, interrupted by a game?

It’s also a demonstration of the problems marketers are facing in a multi-platform world.

There was a time when the superbowl really was super — in 1976 it drew 78% of households watching TV.  Nearly 8 in 10 people watching TV were watching the game, on the same channel.  It truly was an event shared by the country.  And if you wanted to see the game, you had to see the commercials.

After the game was over, people really talked about the game.  The newspapers the next day were mostly about the game, the commentators on TV were commenting about the game.

That game is so over it’s hard to remember it even existed.

In the past few years the audience share of the Superbowl has been in the low 60s.  Still very high compared to anything else on network tv these days.  But hardly the commanding presence it was a generation ago.

But something else has changed.  I was experiencing the game through blogs, not TV.  Did I miss something?  I can download the ads or watch them on YouTube.  Or I can skip them entirely.  No longer is my experience of the superbowl controlled by the network.  

Along with those changes, is a change in focus.  Today the commercials have become a tremendous part of the superbowl.  The anticipation before and dissection afterwards is still mostly about the game.  But a whole lot of it is focused on the advertising.  The fake PETA ad.  The endless scoring of “this was a good ad” and “this wasn’t” is already exploding across the internet.  Everyone’s a critic!

The challenge has now become for the advertisers to dance with their audience across multiple platforms — blogs, mobile internet, YouTube, websites.  And, yes, network TV.  The nature of each platform is different.  What works on TV doesn’t work on a website.  How you communicate on a blog is different than how you communicate on YouTube.

Brand positioning tells you to use the same narrow message, with the same attribute, across all these different platforms.

This is one way in which Narrative Branding is different.  It is where having a strong narrative comes in.  The narrative unfolds across platforms.  It helps you identify the appropriate portions of the narrative for the relevant media.


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