How Branding Has Confused Politicians and Business

As we head towards the general election, it's becoming clear that politics in this country is now much more about facade and image than ever before.

We have airbrushed party leaders, soundbites, and slogans devoid of real meaning.

The substance is conspicuous by it's absence. Trying to get a politician to clearly state a policy or idea these days is like trying to nail sick to a window.

It's becoming increasingly frustrating. When is someone going to say what they really think? Or state what they would actually do should they come to power?

But perhaps we shouldn't blame politicians and the parties. Perhaps they're just following the example set by modern marketing and advertising?

After all, marketing and advertising has become increasingly about the facade.

Modern advertising and marketing has become all about the brand. Brand advertising forgets the substance - the product or service the business provides, what makes it good, why people might choose it - and concentrates instead on building some values around the brand.

Millions and millions of pounds are spent each year on consultants and advertising 'building brands' in this inefficient and misguided way. And the fact remains that if you build your brand this way it only ever remains a facade. That image can crumble as soon as people are exposed to the reality or experience of the product, if they do actually try it.

Apple and Innocent are examples of great brands that have become strong by talking about their products - about what makes them good, why you might like them - not by building a facade. Of course, they've got the way they communicate spot-on, so that it all adds to the way that the brand comes across, which is important. But it is communication with substance at its heart. Not airy-fairy, vacuous 'brand advertising' about feelings and emotions or rainbows and unicorns.

Advertising and marketing courses and professionals increasingly hold Innocent and Apple up as examples of 'great brands'. But they never seem to realise or acknowledge that how they got there was through good, old-fashioned product advertising (and of course developing good products and improving them).

These ad and marketing people understand that they are great brands, but they clearly don't understand how they got there, because to try to replicate their success they always seem to recommend brand advertising.

Hundreds of companies are throwing millions of pounds at the wall, hiring branding agencies, doing touchy-feely brand campaigns, building their facade, and they're neglecting to tell people what makes them a good company - the product or service that they sell. They're neglecting to give people a reason why they should try that product or service. As our friend Bob Hoffman puts it, they're trying to get them to try the product by convincing them to love the brand. It's such an inefficient, ineffective, expensive way of building business. Popularity doesn't necessarily translate into sales. Being known alone doesn't translate into sales - well-known companies go bust every year.

No, the real way to build a brand is by getting people to buy, use (and hopefully use again) your product or service. And to do that you need to give people the meat in the sandwich - the reasons why. Not just build a facade.

So, even though the current political leaders and and their words seem empty, false and meaningless - and we find it increasingly frustrating and unhelpful, can we really blame our politicians for using the same approach of facade without substance?

After all, they're only doing exactly what the supposedly smartest ad agencies, brand consultants and marketers recommend to businesses every day.


  1. I think you're right, but I think most companies are probably better off with this kind of smoke and mirrors brand advertising because their actual products are so crap that the longer it takes for people to try their products, the better (for them).

  2. Ha ha, well I guess most companies actually want people to buy or use their product or service in order to survive or grow.

    If they've got such a bad product that they don't want anyone to try it, then they have much bigger problems than their advertising or image.

  3. I'm not a big one for 'leaving comment' but yet again you get it spot on. I dread working on logos / identies / brands as clients alway have this really convoluted expectation of what you as a designer are going to acheive with their logo, they seem to think that if they get the right mark, their company will be the next google. Google has a shit logo, but a great service, that's why it works. It seems that politics has just caught this nasty infection, where did it come from this brand (snow)blindness

    Doff's hat.


  5. The crap product comment is what this entire issue is all about. No one can take a stand about anything for fear of alienating even a single voter, so no one stands for anything, which is a crap product, which means there's nothing to say, which means brand advertising and, ultimately, a shit goverment, which is identical to the shit opposition.

  6. At the moment nobody knows whether the political parties are a crap product or not, because they're not saying anything about themselves (ie policies).
    Which in itself makes them crap of course, as you say.

    It's the same as a lot of product advertising. Who knows whether it's good/bad/indifferent/whatever because all the advertising does it tell you that it exists, or says something generic like it makes you feel better, or some shit.


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