Back in 2008 my mate Hugh introduced (through his blog) me to Mark Earls a real life brand guru, the guy that wrote the book “Welcome to the Creative Age“, a book that was published in 2000 and it made a lot of people in Advertising quite nervous (particularly the big boys in London). Mark was working in a “creative cooperative” St Luke’s at the time where he coined the phrase “The Purpose Idea”. He was questioning people when they mentioned Brand and wanted to know what the hell were they talking about? He points out that the word Brand is the score card not the game, in otherwords the BRAND is what you get as a result of doing something great, it’s not a guide of what to do.
Mark says: “Talking about the “Brand” perpetuates the myths we like to hold tight onto, the power of marketing and communication – sometimes when you hear brand professionals talk, they seem to imagine they are sorcerers and magicians, weaving binding spells and illusions. More often than not, they like to use military metaphors. The truth of course is that mostly we are neither of these things and have a marginal effect at best.”
So if talking brand is rubbish what comes next?
This is where you start to get to grips with the “Purpose Idea”. Mark continues: “Put really simply, the Purpose-Idea is the “What For?” of a business, or any kind of community. What exists to change (or protect) in the world, why employees get out of bed in the morning, what difference the business seeks to make on behalf of customers and employees and everyone else? By the way this is not “mission, vision, values” territory – it’s about real drives, passions and beliefs. The stuff that men in suits tend to get embarrassed about because it’s personal. But it’s the stuff that makes the difference between success and failure, because this kind of stuff brings folk together in all aspects of human life.” “A lot of folk think business is some separate rational sphere of activity, in which maths, analytics and rational thinking prevail (whether it’s in customers’ or employees’ minds). Purpose Idea makes things personal – makes you put your balls on the line. It cuts through the crap of “strategy” and all that pseudoscience that we hide behind.”
Mark believes that big Advertising businesses are living on borrowed time: “Their economic models are screwed. The one thing you read on the faces of the guys (and it is mostly the guys) who run them is “Not on my watch”: They know that a major discontinuity is coming, they know we’re all going over the cliff, and that it’s all going to be different the other side but they just hope to have paid off the school and college fees before then. They’ve done pretty well to hedge all of this with a bit of digital tinkering but frankly they’re too slow, too fat and not set up to embrace what’s next (Which isn’t about messages by the way).”
Mark’s second book “Herd” challenges that other sacred cow of advertising, the idea that the Consumer is the “Heroic Individual”, using individual celebrities to get the consumer to identify with the product. The book quite rightly states we’re social animals; social primates; we behave more like chimps and gorillas, more than we behave like lone, crisp eating baffoons. Mark says: “Human beings are to independent action, what cats are to swimming. We can do it if we really have to, but mostly we don’t… Instead, we do what we do because of what those around us are doing (Whatever our minds and our cultures tell us).”
Continuing he says: “So if you want to change what I’m doing, don’t try to persuade me – don’t try to make me – do anything. Instead, enlist the help of my friends… But not crudely (as in “Recommendation”). That’s just persuasion by another name: another “Push” tactic. I’m convinced the answer lies in creating “Pull” (i.e. Social) forces. Ultimately you can’t make anyone do anything. They do what they do because of their peers.”
As a piece of advice Mark says to Advertising agencies: “Start making things, instead of communicating…”
Talking Brand is talking Crap. Social objects are the future of marketing, here’s why: Hugh Macleod
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