OK, this obituary is a long time coming
There are signs everywhere that everything we learnt and knew about brand building and all its allied disciplines of advertising, market research, promotions, media, sponsorships are past the sell by date. And neither are the digital era tools like branded content and social campaigns a panacea.
It probably began when the consumer had an option to skip ads
It began when we realised that brand ambassadors were just paid to appear in ads
It began when young kids with a phone could make more engaging content than formal film makers
It began when brand channels on Youtube couldn’t compete even remotely, with independent channels even after splurging millions
It began when the internet changed the rate at which we get bored
It began when Facebook stopped showing branded content on our news feeds unless the brands cough up a lot of money
It began when it was way more cooler to not buy what every one else was buying
It began when a couple of kids in a garage could beat the big blue
It began when advertising got so overtly smart that it let the motivations show through
It began when every sponsorship was up for grabs to the highest bidder
It began when fame stopped being an elusive attribute that money couldn’t buy
It began when everyone started copying everyone else in a frenzy
It began when authenticity and trust were begun to be used as a marketing message
And so on
But that’s what has led us to where we are today
The strength of connect consumers have with brands (as measured by the ease with which they could potentially switch to another competing offering) have possibly never been lower.
So what could brands do?
They could possibly take a leaf out of the only brands that seem destined to survive – the religious, cultural and maybe a few political brands. We are talking of formal religions, preachers and cults, rock bands, authors, advocacy groups, and the like.
And what do they do?
They are fired by a missionary zeal or burn with a sense of purpose that businesses (that too corporate style businesses) have always shied away from
Businesses typically talk the language of zeal and purpose only for shamelessly selfish goals. These days, they seem to neither motivate their employees, nor their partners – leave alone their consumers.
Religions and Cultural icons have always spoken from an intensely personal vision and their energies have always been directed at the purity of a vision, or the pursuit of a grand quest.
Every action of theirs is fired by the restless quest that is impervious to critical judgement just because of the sincerity of purpose that backs it
Visions lead and profits follow.
If ever brands need to retain even a semblance of their stature, that’s possibly the only way to go.