Branding’s Not Dangerous, Provided It’s Not A Lie

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Concepts, like individuals, have their histories and are just as incapable of withstanding the ravages of time as are individuals.”
Consultant and Friend of AdPulp, Tom Asacker, believes the concept of branding is one such construct that the winds and rain of modern communication are slowly wearing down. In a thought piece available as a PDF from his site, Asacker argues that “branding is a dangerous concept.”

Rapid technological advancements have brought us back to the future. Today’s post-industrial age, like pre-industrial times, is a fragmented marketplace of communities of like-minded people looking for distinctive value. It’s overflowing with an abundance of products, along with skeptical people who increasingly rely on others in their “communities” for information and guidance. Value and trust are, once again, the principal determinants of success.
Despite this fact, marketers persist in the folly of branding. The pernicious cognitive pull of this powerful industrial-age concept, along with the ecosystem that evolved to perpetuate
it, is holding back marketing thought and organizational action. Make no mistake: marketers are wasting a lot of time and money because of branding. Once great organizations, like GM, Hertz and Sprint, are close to collapse due to the psychological weight of branding. And, like fish with water, most people are completely unaware of it.

“The pernicious cognitive pull.” That’s why I read Tom Asacker–for lines like that and the contrary opinions that go with them.
Asacker’s central argument is that branding belongs to mass marketing and commodity goods. I get that and it’s certainly one way of describing branding. But I happen to think branding is more flexible. I also think branding is essential to any business that wants to make a distinct impression in the marketplace. That goes for single location restaurants and breweries as well as for industrial manufacturers, banks, hospitals and the rest.
If a brand is the sum total of a consumer’s experiences with the company, as I believe it is, branding is here to stay and rightfully so. Although, I’m talking about branding for the 21st century. Branding’s job today is to reveal, not conceal.



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.