These days you just cannot sit through a proposal that doesn’t have a brand manifesto proudly prefacing the idea. They’ve become a templated feature that every commendable proposal seems obligated to include. Call me jaded, but to me they’re rarely more than copywriting wankery meant to flatter the ego of the wordsmith, and an insidious reinforcement of misplaced assumptions and unrealistic expectations.
Deep down, even though they’re usually not meant to be consumer facing, manifestos feed on the notion that brands play an important role in consumers’ lives. That for some reason they had been waiting for a milk/sneaker/beer brand to raise a voice and rally people behind their Little Red Book.
Brand planners seem to think they help express the brand’s difference, but what they highlight best is the gap between the role the brand plays in the marketer’s life and the one it plays in the consumers’. You see an eloquent articulation of your beliefs, I see naive fan-mail written by a 12-year-old hoping her favourite singer is going to take her out.
And even if we agreed that manifestos’ only purpose was to rally and align marketers behind the scenes, their customary long-windedness is in my experience counterproductive, as it makes them very difficult to remember and operate from. This is verbosity meant to impress at the time of reading, but coming through one ear and exiting the other, leaving a pretty sterile trail. I personally cannot remember a single manifesto from any of the brands I’ve worked on, even though very few passed on the luxury of having one. And if at the very least a manifesto is supposed to help marketers work in a cohesive fashion, it is a problem. In a way, they’re the butterflies of branding: pretty to look at, but ephemeral and powerless. Unless there is a chaotic string of events, they’re very unlikely to produce any storm.
Therefore, they might leave the audience all pumped up about how their trivial functional benefit is going to change society. But while we pretend that 'I had a dream' might as well be written to sell soap, we joyfully ignore some of the more pressing issues brands face.
Much more often than not, manifestos are a distraction. We’re on the hunt for elephants, and we just take a leisurely stroll gazing at butterflies. I’ve seen too many companies confusing the wood for the trees and seeing an important achievement in coming up with one. We marvel at the prose, but we also forget the important. We don’t take enough time defining the things that will stick with consumers, or a clear set of category associations we need to be brought up to mind. Brand planning should spend more time and effort studying what can make a brand and its category memorable and salient. It should enable the creative muscles with cognitive insights to play with, not stifle them with the pretence of a semantic spark.
Great branding is ultimately an exercise of simplicity. Things that don’t need many words to convey, made to stick with us. And you can quote me 'Think different' all you want, the reality is that too many marketers are chasing butterflies to frame, when what they really need is earworms to chant.
|Shann Biglione is chief strategy officer at Publicis Media Greater China and a member of Campaign Asia-Pacific's 2016 40 under 40. He self-published this piece on LinkedIn and gave permission for us to reproduce it here.|