For Best Results, Align The Brand Truth With The Audience’s Inner Truths

I like it when advertising pros get intentional with their language and say it like it is.

Witness the words of Douglas Van Praet, Group Planning Director for the Volkswagen account at Deutsch L.A. and author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing:

Whenever I hear the word “consumer,” a term unavoidable in marketing, a part of me winces. The label is counterproductive and misguided, suggesting hubris by putting corporate interests over customer concerns. The worst offense is that it presupposes a response you haven’t earned yet. Their purpose is not to consume your product!


According to Fast Company, Van Praet’s approach to advertising and marketing draws from unconscious behaviorism and applies neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral economics to business problems. Van Praet contends, “What is a no-brainer for any cognitive scientist remains mind-boggling to marketers. The conscious mind is simply not running the show, but we’ve created an entire industry pretending that it does.”

Is it then the marketer’s job to appeal to the collective unconscious? Marketers certainly have the artists and writers on payroll, many of whom are quite capable of speaking to our deepest desires, rather than our stated intentions. But where is the brand truth in this? Ideally, the brand truth lines up with the audience’s inner truths. For instance, Nike’s brand truth is personal empowerment via athletic achievement. Which is perfectly aligned with their customer’s inner commitment to “Just Do It.”

One might question whether this commitment from amateur athletes to act, to play and to strive was put their by the billions of ad dollars spent by the Beaverton behemoth, or if the motivation is naturally occurring, and the brand is merely working with it like a potter works with clay. I would suggest both factors are at work.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.