Lovemarks, Godmarks…What’s The Dif?

It’s Sunday in Chicago. Good day for a sermon.
“The primary job of an advertiser is not to communicate benefit, but to communicate conviction. Benefit is secondary. Benefit is a product of conviction, not vice versa. Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you. You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand. It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into. Ergo, great branding is a spiritual exercise.” -from Hugh MacLeod’s Hughtrain Manifesto
Hugh is copywriter looking for work and meaning. I can identify with that. Where I begin to have trouble is with his double speak. Johnnie Moore, Tom Asaker and Hugh himself are crying out for authenticity in advertising. So what’s this about the product benefit taking a back seat to conviction? Damn, that sounds a lot like Saatchi Kevin’s Lovemarks to me.
For the record, I do not know Hugh, nor do I have anything against him. He’s an outspoken defender of his position, like I am. That character trait gets people fired, fired up and in trouble. I can live with that and my bet is so can Hugh. So this dressing down is not meant to be personal. My interest is in the argument being conducted. Hugh detests branding and Lovemarks, but he builds brands for a living, including his own. Gaping Void, his blog, is a brand. His “Hughtrain Manifesto” is a brand. The guy’s making his mark, or Godmark, as the case may be.
My message is simple. Keep it real. Lovemarks is one prominent ad guy’s new buzzword about branding. Branding is not dead. Kevin Roberts knows it, and I dare say Hugh MacLeod knows it. Hugh has his own spin, as I have mine. In each case, we hope to improve the quality of the communications we make on behalf of paying clients. Call it what you will. But don’t tell me it’s the salvation of the ad industry. Tell me it’s a step in the right direction, then, if you’re so inclined, get back to work on the next step.

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. Branding occurs beneath one of two umbrellas:
    Tons of money, or tons of creativity. Obviously, money is easier to come by, witness the attempts at branding that fall flat on their face regularly. Also, anyone that attempts to say that “our people” make the difference in ANY brand is doomed to failure. Too many variables.
    Of course, people could get radical and combine creativity AND money, but that might be too over-the-top.

  2. “Godmark”. Heh. I love it!
    I do not believe the “salvation” of the ad industry is going to happen. I think it’s just “slow, painful demise” from now on. With or without Lovemarks, Cluetrain, Hughtrain, or any other whatsit that comes along.

  3. Thanks for participating in this, Hugh, and for clarifying your position. It’s even more radical than I suspected.

  4. Carl LaFong says:

    When you get right down to it, isn’t all this talk of Lovemarks and Godmarks and Hughtrains and Lionel Trains and whatnot much ado about nothing? The ultimate goal of advertising remains pretty much what it was from the very beginning. It’s a debate of semantics, not substance. Rather than listening to consumers, the industry just talks to itself – endlessly.

  5. All great advertising is just presenting the expected in an unexpected way. That’s it. The secret. Getting everyone on board in order to do it, now that’s another thing. All marketing should do is give the people doing the ads the background to do them, and the means to make them public in the most public way. That’s not hard either.

  6. markets are creative

    BzzAgents. Volunteer armies of no-life lamester peons willing to systematically pimp your product to their families and friends for no reward other than “the chance to be part of something”. Long article from The New York Times.This might be…

  7. hugh macleod says:

    “Much ado about nothing”…? Basically, Yes 😉

  8. Great blog. And I don’t know about Hugh (or you) but I’ve never intimated that “Branding” is dead. It can’t die! It’s simply a concept. Cripes, there’s even a brand called “Naomi Klein” of No Logo fame. And isn’t Culture Jammers a brand?
    What I think is dying fast is the manipulative appeal to the reptilian brain and other pseudoscientific bs masquerading as marketing wisdom. Get real marketers! Or don

  9. Drink? Someone’s buying drinks? Where? Make mine a Jack Daniels. I am cheap, and obtainable.

  10. markets are creative

    BzzAgents. Volunteer armies of no-life lamester peons willing to systematically pimp your product to their families and friends for no reward other than “the chance to be part of something”. Long article from The New York Times.This might be…

  11. Other voices

    It seems that some of my recent posts have stirred up some controversy. I notice I have mixed feelings… sure I like the attention but in some ways being in an echo chamber was easier. Anyway, here are a few…

  12. Lovemarks suffers from the same malaise as No Logo: some excellent ideas shrouded in blather, veiled in an extravagant waste of good paper, rhetoric and enormous ego.

  13. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo does blather about some, but I dare say her ego is in check. And there’s no questioning her where her heart is. That is, in the right place.

  14. James Hrrng says:

    Interesting who gets name checked and who provides quotes in the Lovemarks book. Dan Storper of Putumayo World Music. Tim Sanders, Yahoo. Malcolm Gladwell. Virginia Postrel. After re-reading the last chapter of Postrel’s The Future & Its Enemies I found some context for the ‘debate’.