Why brands have to mean something more than products

By Tash Whitmey, Group CEO

July 16, 2015 | 4 min read

Sometimes a washing powder is just that. A washing powder. Brand owners have never been less sure of spending their advertising pounds, but there remains a reluctance to look at this very real scenario where consumers just don’t care for brands, when brands lose their prestige and their relevance and people start buying ‘stuff’ instead.

Studies have shown that people would not care if the vast majority of brands were to disappear. What then for the future of branding? Is it possible, in the future, that the only brand that will matter is 'I'?

Will this mean that the role of businesses will simply be to manufacture, and then deliver services and products that link these products into the personalised world of buying of their customers? With technology and the global supply chain, is it possible that the brand of ‘I’ becomes the one that matters – the Instagram of the product world; people buying directly for manufacturers and distributors; crowd-sourced designs; personalised products; what matters to me... versus needing a brand to add an aspirational or positioning value?

To me what that means is if ‘I’ the Brand is moving away from aspirations and desires to a way of thinking that wants a positive impact on our worlds, our communities and our societies, then brands that espouse the same values will matter.

According to our research, when asked what people want, the top results globally include:

  • help me stay healthier
  • make my life easier
  • honest and transparent
  • help me manage spending
  • help me feel happy / satisfied with life
  • creates jobs

With people thinking that very few brands are seen to be improving the quality of people’s lives, it seems they underperform dramatically on this scale. If people do not find brands tangibly contributing to their lives, and they don't care if brands disappear, even the emotional attachment is missing. Does a brand offer anything beyond advertising?

In human terms, what this signals is that people are looking for a sense of purpose and wellbeing in everyone and everything around them. They want not just governments and NGOs but also businesses to deliver more on positive social and environmental change.

Brands that are viewed as meaningful are seen to contribute positively to the quality of their lives, are significant enough to be missed if they disappear, contribute to the wellbeing of their societies, and go beyond being just a product or a service.

As an optimist, and someone with huge faith in the power and influence of our advertising industry, I believe we can once again make brands mean something to people and their lives and therefore succeed in a values driven world.

The brand ‘I’ will help harness a social attitude shift for all business sectors towards a more socially conscious and purposeful behaviour.

Tash Whitmey is Group CEO of Havas helia


More from Branding

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +