Let’s Use Words To Describe What We Mean

Bob Gilbreath, Bridge Worldwide’s Chief Marketing Strategist, is a big fan of “Marketing With Meaning” (the concept, and the actual words).

I’m thrilled that Supe and Schmidtt (from Razorfish) align on the use of the word “meaningful” to describe the concept that we are dedicated to promoting. We sometimes find that the word only conjures elements of Cause Marketing-which, while important, is only one of many ways that brands can deliver value to people’s lives. It is a word that has much more soul than rival expressions like “branded utility.” And I believe “meaning” is superior to “marketing as service” because it suggests that there is a progression-i.e. brands can do more by reaching people in an increasingly meaningful way.

So, already we have the struggle to define terms. Such is the nature of business. Personally, I’m good with branded utility. I like the word “utility” because it evokes real work, like the work of the water company, electric company and so on.
“Marketing with meaning” has a nice alliterative ring to it, but the meaning of the phrase is a bit too open-ended. “Meaning” to one, could be advertising to another. Whereas, branded utility clearly states that the brand is intent on doing something useful for a change.
I like the way the guys from Razorfish put it:

What a brand says will always be important, but in this day and age what a brand does – how it acts and how it brings its beliefs to life in ways that add value to consumers — will be the most important, and ultimately the most engaging.

When you step back and look at this movement towards meaning, it’s kind of radical. All of a sudden consumers aren’t going to take any shit from marketers? They’re going to demand that brands first add value to their lives and the community, before a “conversation” can even begin? That’s the price of admission today?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Hello David, this is well written with perfect clarity. I could not say it better. I write a Cause Marketing blog and grasping this trend has been a struggle. Even finding a name for this Marketing tactic has been a challenge.
    KyNam Doan

  2. Thanks for the attention to this discussion, David. You are correct that we will struggle to choose the right description, but a handful are in the same ballpark and all of our hearts are in the same/right place.
    I think you have a good point that “meaning” to one person will differ from others. One of many examples is Burger King’s latest “Whopper Sacrifice” Facebook app. To some, it’s fun and interesting – even useful. Others might find it mean-spirited. The point is that it is meaningful to some people, who will in turn engage and be more likely to buy their burgers. People who don’t like it are free to avoid or ignore it.
    And, yes, I think increasingly the price of admission is something that is value-added. Irrelevant, interruptive advertising today is increasingly ignored. Meanwhile, the means to create marketing that itself improves peoples lives is growing.