According to the betting line in Las Vegas, there are better-than-even odds that I don't get the point of this article. And I don't know Brian Millar. I am, however, quite certain he's a smashing chap, with a Permanent File full of good deeds, a profile full of experience, a head full of knowledge, and a lovely singing voice. But when you write things like this, you may also be, as Charlie Daniels sings, a furly dangerous man:
I don’t think that you can value brands, because they’re just a convenient fiction. Once they were a useful way of looking at the world. Now that such a massive industry has developed around them, they’re actually distorting the way companies do business. Is it time to stop talking about brands and branding altogether? I think we should all have a try.
- You're attempting to be controversial, in which case you've succeeded, at least judging from the comments inspired by the article.
- You're attempting to be a contrarian, in which case you're likely to attract a fine following of would-be nonconformists, all of whom are blazing their respective trails of individualism to … well … they're not quite sure.
- You're attempting to be profound, in which case you might have backed up your ostensible argument a little more substantively.
- You actually believe it, in which case modern pharmaceuticals offer a plethora of remedies for whatever it is that might have afflicted the firing of your synapses.
No matter the reason, it's still a highly dubious notion.
There is a point at which individualism becomes a uniform inspite of itself.
Malcolm Cowley (1898 – 1989)
Solipsism Meets Syllogism
I believe Mr. Millar's motivations were a combinatiion of all four. He does exhibit some of the classic symptoms of COTUS (center of the universe syndrome). And sufferers of COTUS are almost always trapped into making their would-be arguments self-referentially illogical and unsound. COTUS also explains why Mr. Millar could have been excited enough at what he perceived to be his big opportunity to be controversially, contrarily profound to jump to this statement of unwitting contradiction of his own premise; i.e., that the concept of brand is now irrelevant:
Brands [are] … a by-product of having great products and communicating them well to people … If you promise something clearly, deliver on that promise, and repeat the process, you build strong emotional links to your company … that’s where the value resides: in my head and your head, and your mother’s head. And the stuff inside my head is my property. If brands exist at all, they exist in the minds of consumers.
Because Mr. Miller's motivations seemed to exhibit good faith, regardless of his COTUS and the fact that his conclusion bombed, The Front Line invited him to walk through this brain-teaser with us. He graciously accepted. (Of course, he did.) Here we go:
TFL: Your first premise is that great products establish brands.
BM: Yes. That's correct.
TFL: Would a fair translation of the notion be that brands self-establish on quality and integrity?
BM: Quite fair. Yes.
TFL: Your seond premise is that solid brands engender emotional connections.
TFL: Would a fair translation of that notion be when folks trust your product, they trust your brand?
BM: Absolutely so.
BM: Precisely right.
TFL: Would it be fair from that premise to surmise you may have tried to keep the value of emotional connections In places other than your head, perhaps without much luck?
BM: Uh … well … you see … what had happened was ….
TFL: Don't worry, Big Fella. We sympathize. We once tried to keep emotional value in our back pocket, alongside a jelly donut. Neither of them fared particularly well in our subway seat.
BM: Ah … it's more like a perception than a jelly donut.
TFL: Okay. And your conclusion is that because the emotional value is in your head, the brand is, too.
BM: I think so.
TFL: Would it be fair to tranlate that as saying that, because brands are abstract concepts, they're rendered irrelevant because they can only be percieved in one's mind?
BM: Where else would one perceive them?
TFL: Sorry, Champ. That's our question. Our work here is done.
The fact that a brand is an abstract concept, established on the basis of products, introduced into a market and perceived to be valuable, neither invalidates nor nullifies the value or relevance of the brand. Brand is a mental shortcut. It engenders other emotional connections — like trust and faith — that are equally hard to see or to put in your pocket to keep a pastry company. That's exactly why Paul Rand invented the modern manifestation of the logo — so the abstract concept would have a visually perceptible rendering. And it's why it was completely unnecessary for him to create a logo for a jelly donut.
Insult to Injury
We will give Mr. Millar credit for one thing: It's no mean feat to combine solipsism, syllogism, and sophistry in one invalid thesis. But our friend has done it here. After failing to argue soundly for the irrelevance of brand, he then uses that irrelevance as an invalid premise for his next illogical conclusion:
When was the last time Apple did a pure brand ad? Fifteen years ago? Apple went from a challenger to a leader when it stopped focusing on its brand and made its products the heroes of its communications.
Translation: I've postulated that brand is irrelevant. As evidence of the truth of my postulation, witness the fact that Apple, a world-leading brand, no longer does branding ads, having replaced them withh product ads.
Final question to Mr. Millar: Having established its brand to a world-leading level, why would Apple need to advertise its brand? No response.
Along with invalid premises, unsound arguments, and illogical conclusions, Mr. Millar has here added the logical fallacy of false cause; that is, it's not the irrelevance of brand that enables Apple to advertise product, rather than brand. Instead, its the unshakeable establishment of its brand that enables Apple to advertise product.
Put Down the Defibrillator
To paraphrase Mark Twain — and the best efforts of Mr. Millar notwithstanding — rumors of brand's demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, brand is still your company's most valuable asset. Were that not so, Dazzling Delbert's Ductile Dressings would have superseded Band-Aid's market share by now. (Delbert's gauze pads are bigger.) Tantalizing Tillie's Tender Tissues would have made all of us forget about Kleenex. (Tillie's regular tissues are bigger than Kleenex's Mansize.) And every self-respecting picknicker in America would be using Cool Clyde's Compact Cannikins instead of Dixie Cups. (Cool Clyde actually knows the meaning of cannikins.)
In other words, despite the superiority of their products, Delbert, Tillie, and Clyde aren't competitive with Band-Aid, Kleenex, and Dixie Cups because they haven't yet established their brands to the levels those other companies have. Until Delbert, Tillie, and Clyde do that, it's their products — not their brands — that are irrelevant in and to their respective markets.
But Mr. Millar need not despair or give up his aspiraiton to write. Instead of writing about marketing or branding, maybe he should consider a gig with Monty Python.